Wild beast watchers pounce on new sightings

Big cats living wild in Britain

source: John Vidal
Guardian January 11 2003 p10

The number of sightings of big cats in the wild in Britain increased to a new peak in 2002. The British Big Cat Society received over 1,000 reports , and some zoologists believe that the population of big cats in the UK is increasing. There have been sightings in every county, and a wide range of big cats sighted, including jungle cats, ocelots, pumas, leopards and lynxes. The cat society aims to collect evidence using special cameras able to take photos at night. The big cats usually follow streams and railway lines, and have become accustomed to cars and people. They only present a risk to the public if they are surprised or cornered. The cats could interbreed, which may lead to a population explosion.

Zoologists who believe that there are many wild cats in Britain include London zoo's Quentin Rose, who has identified 18 reports of ocelots and jungle cats, that he believes are reliable, as well as 27 leopard sightings and 32 sightings of pumas. Glasgow zoo's Paul Paterson believes that big cats are being imported by rich owners, and are then being dumped. Some of these exotic imports can breed with domestic pet cats, with some hybrids also producing offspring. He believes that the Dangerous Wild Animals Act may have led many people to dump exotic pets. Meanwhile, the police are calling for more controls of dangerous animals, while a government wildlife officer argues that there is little hard evidence, like road kills, and killings of livestock, to support these claims.