What if…Big Cats really do roam the Cotswolds?

After writing about Anomalous Big Cats the other month I had a thought- what if they really were really, really real. What if the Cotswolds really was riddled with them? What would that mean for them, and nature conservation, in the UK?

Now, as a subject, I’ll be upfront – I love Anomalous Big Cats. I love the very idea of them, I love the scant and fleeting little YouTube clips, I love the anecdotes of dubious provenance, I love the theories, the speculation and the occasionally bat-shit mental suppositions and conspiracies. It entertains me enormously. Maybe I’m the kind of person who can get overly caught up in the enigmatic. My wife (yes, I really have managed to get married) lives in constant fear that I will run away to search for a remnant population of the Thylacine or some such. OK, ‘fear’ might be the wrong word. Hope. Yes, hope, that’s what I meant.

So I pondered, well, just what would the ramifications be if somehow a feral population of melanistic panther/puma/whatever were discovered to exist somewhere other than the odd dog-walker’s subconscious? I’ve never bought in entirely to Monbiot’s theory that it is some kind of subliminal, hindbrain response to a world denuded of all that is wild. And I’ve never entirely discounted the notion that there might just be one or two anomalies scurrying around out there. But if a full, breeding population was proven? Then what? Do we protect them? Do we eradicate them? Do we work to encourage breeding?

I suspect there’d be a call to properly study the population scientifically, and that is certainly what Natural England would agree to. Almost immediately, the study would have its funding quietly trimmed and a suggestion would arise that a more focused study on the economic impact to farming concerns would be more beneficial. Despite concerns being voiced from the scientific community, all livestock lost to predators become listed as ‘potential Big Cat kills’, while the transmission of a disease from Big Cats to sheep is described as ‘not yet proven.’

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Nessie: Sure to benefit from HLF funding, but who is looking out for Mothman?

Finally, the report would be published, and would clearly state that the Big Cat population presents no significant danger to humans or native wildlife and that livestock loss will be minimal. It even suggests the population might be beneficial for controlling the ballooning deer population. Having read this, Liz Truss will nod her head sagely and order a widescale, expensive culling program to eradicate the Big Cat menace. A year later and with no confirmed kills, the reinstated Environmental Secretary and UKIP MP Owen Paterson will announce that the Big Cat population never even existed in the first place and this is why you should never trust scientists. In the same speech he will state that Climate Change is an entirely natural process that the UKIP/Conservative coalition will be doing it’s very best to enhance while announcing the lucrative new opening of Farageton, a new port town on the Somerset Levels.

I have already extrapolated mentally to a whole host of other cryptids and maybe one day when I’m really short of ideas I’ll write about that (put briefly, it’s good news for Nessie (Heritage Lottery Funding) but bad news for Yetis (Chinese herbal medicine market)). For now, I’m off to pack my bags and look up flights to Tasmania.

Here Kitty, Kitty – Big Cats or Just Slightly-Bigger-Than-Average Cats?

It’s silly season again, with another report of a massive mystery moggy making the news the other week in France (yes, I’m a little late to the party). This story seems to have gone a little quiet now, so one can only assume that it was an oversized tabby rather than a misplaced Tiger after all. Was it another instance of a Dougal-esque mistaken sense of perspective?

There seems to be another sighting of a Big Cat around the British Isles every few months. Just what is going on? Monbiot, in Feral and recently on his blog, has put this down to some sort of collective yearning for a connection with something wilder, something atavistic to bring some excitement to mundane lives bereft of any really cool wildlife of the ‘can disembowel you’ variety. Maybe he has a point. Maybe there is some sort of subconscious wish fulfillment going on here. Or maybe this is a case of people falling victim to some kind of primal pre-programming to seek out the sinister and deadly amongst the commonplace and routine, analogue hard-wiring of the brain in a digital age. Maybe our remaining fauna have become so readily visible, such as with our expanding urban fox population, that we have had to invent our own, more interesting charismatic carnivores.

And my, it does generate a lot of media interest. Just take the Epping Forest puma; after numerous attempts at generating publicity about fly-tipping, a cuddly toy stuck up a tree generated more press interest than any amount of builders rubble ever could:

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Monstrous and horrifying beast captured on a trail cam round my way

We do seem to love the novel, the out of place the aberrant, the anomalous in our wildlife. I should know. By far the most interesting thing I’ve ever done is counting Wallabies on the Isle of Man (I’m pretty dull). It’s all anyone I talk to ever wants to hear about, I take measures to ensure I can bring it up in any conversation. I’m a riot at dinner parties.

Big Cats seem to spring up from nowhere from time to time, arriving fully formed and with little prior incidence or evidence that might have tipped off even your most unobservant of ecologist (I think even I’d notice 5 foot high scratching posts and an abundance of half-eaten deer about the place). Take the debacle in St Osyth a couple of years ago which saw the tabloid favourite mythical Big Cat get a fresh chance to stretch its legs. This time it was supposedly a Lion (are we upgrading? Are pumas and panthers no longer exciting enough that we have begun to see Lions and Tigers lurking in the undergrowth?). This was a modern play on an old theme, with Twitter aliases, bad photo-shopping and rolling 24-hour news coverage of intrepid reporters standing in fields completely bereft of anything even vaguely feline. Much as the Paris Tiger has, the Essex Lion also seemed to vanish without a trace.

Mysterious Black Cats - They could be hiding anywhere

Mysterious Big Cats – They could be hiding anywhere

But what I have found peculiar about both instances is the reaction of the local police forces, and the similar reactions from police forces around the country after other sightings. I think this might be something worth considering all in itself. Yes, they have a duty to ensure public safety, but where the rest of us see a grainy image and think ‘someone really needs to cut back on their kitty treats’, the local rozzers decide to scramble their ‘copters and mobilize SWAT with more alacrity than even their Ferguson counterparts might. Do they take the whole thing more seriously than the rest of us? Do they know something we don’t? Or are they just waiting for any excuse to break out their shiny toys? Either way, they are clearly taking the whole issue much more seriously than most of us. Why might this be?

Well, one possible reason might be that there really is actual concrete proof of at least one Big Cat turning up in the UK. In 1991 a Big Cat was shot in Norfolk, prompting the excellent answer of ‘Oh, only some pigeons and a Lynx’ to the question ‘what’s in the freezer?’ As usual, I will give a warning that this lynx link is to the Daily Mail. But just as one swallow does not a summer make, one Lynx does not a…erm…bugger…anyone know the collective noun for Big Cats? Beyond this incident there are slim pickings for solid evidence of Big Cats, but as I’ve said before, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, which does rather neatly make it pretty difficult to definitively disprove the whole thing.

There are many angles and interpretations of the Big Cat phenomena, and a lot of interesting articles, websites and blogs on the subject that can run the whole gamut from logical to lunatic. The Paris Tiger will not be the last time that the (possibly) mythical Anomalous Big Cat makes a (grainy and obscured) appearance. And once again it will force us to ask the question, ‘are there Big Cats abroad?’ On consideration, it’s probably the best place for them.