Thursday, 26 January 2012

Is There A Wild Big Cat Roaming The Cotswolds?

The UK doesn’t have any very large native big cat species, but over the past few weeks there has been a spate of mutilated animal carcasses found across the Cotswolds.   Our largest native cat is the ScottishWildcat, which is now unfortunately a very rare and reclusive species, with only around four hundred still remaining in the more remote areas of the Scottish Highlands.  So what creature is it that has now killed several deer and three wallabies in the rolling English countryside, where the largest local native predator is the fox?

This mysterious creature has been dubbed the ‘Wildcat ofWoodchester’ and there have dozens of reported sightings.  The terrain around this area is very rugged, with wooded ravines and heavy undergrowth, where a large feline predator could easily hide and be very difficult to spot.  Between 2005 and 2011 Gloucestershire police received seventy five different reports of alleged big cat sightings that ranged from glimpses of pumas, panthers and even a lion close to junction 9 on the M5.

The first mutilated deer carcass was found by someone walking their dog on January 4th, and when the corpse was examined there was plenty of evidence that it was a big cat kill, rather than a dog attack.  The nose of the animal has been bitten off, which is a sign of a cat attack as they sometimes suffocate their prey, and also the deer’s innards had been cleanly removed and placed by the body.  Because the deer had been so recently killed and the corpse was unlikely to have been scavenged by any other animals, samples were removed to be tested for DNA and the results are due in the next few days.  Hopefully the DNA testing will prove to have been successful and whatever animal it was that killed the deer will be identified.

Two more mutilated deer carcasses have been found in the last couple of weeks, and in the last couple of days three wallabies have been found dead in their enclosure at a private wildlife collection only twelve miles from where the deer were devoured in Woodchester.  The animals that killed the unfortunate wallabies had to jump a 7ft fence to get into their paddock, showing that it is a very powerful creature, and the dead wallabies were found to have puncture wounds in their necks, their bodies completely devoured and their internal organs placed alongside what remained of them.

Many locals believe that big cats have been on the loose in the area for many years, and that their prescence might go back to the 1970’s when it became illegal to own exotic big cats and many were thought to have been released into the wild by their owners.  But if it is found that there is a big cat population roaming Gloucestershire, is there any danger to people?  This is very unlikely as big cats generally avoid people where they can and there have not been any reported incidents of an alien big cat attacking a human in the UK.  In the Cotswolds there is a plentiful supply of wildlife, such as deer, for them to hunt, so the danger to people is minimal.  The big danger is that if the DNA tests do come back positive or there is an identified sighting that fear will drive a campaign to hunt them down and kill them.  Although these leopards, pumas or lynxes are an invasive species in the United Kingdom, it is likely that they have been quietly living and breeding here for many years, with no danger to humans or the local habitat.  So if we do have a population of beautiful big cats breeding in this country, would it not be better to protect them and learn about them rather than destroy them?

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