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  Inside Out - North West: Week Monday June 16, 2003

BIG CATS IN CUMBRIA?

Panther
Witnesses say they saw big cats in Cumbria

Witness reports suggest that a family of big cats have made their home in the rugged Cumbrian countryside. But do they really exist? Inside Out talks to startled eye witnesses and doubtful experts…

Sightings of feral felines including panthers, pumas, leopards and lions have soared recently.

Over 1000 people reported sightings to the British Big Cat Society last year. Many of these were in Cumbria.

Credible witness

One man who’s convinced that big cats inhabit Cumbrian territory is Paul Kissack.

Paul Kissack
Paul says he was 'amazed' by his sighting

He’s been a policeman for 22 years. He’s trained to observe, accurate in giving evidence in court and used to dealing with the unexpected. A more credible witness may be hard to find.

Paul says he spotted what he believes to be a puma whilst walking with his wife in Armanthwaite.

Paul says, "It was exactly like watching a David Attenborough programme".

"It was jet black in colour and I remember distinctly a long tail and what seemed like enormous paws."

"It was running away from us so we didn’t feel at risk - just amazed and privileged to have seen it."

Doubtful expert

FACTS

Big cat sightings were recorded as early as 1860.

There are 38 species of cats in the world.

The tiger is the largest cat and is an endangered species.

Pumas live for an average of 12-13 years in the wild.

The elusive cats rarely leave any trace of their existence. The only evidence is eye witness accounts such as Paul’s and a few seconds of unfocused amateur video.

This means that some people dismiss the sightings, claiming they are just dogs, large farm cats or even sheep!

David Gill is an expert in cats and doubts the sightings. He runs Cumbria’s only zoo, the South Lakes Wild Animal Park at Dalton.

David says that although theoretically big cats could survive in Cumbria, he is doubtful that they actually do.

He says, "There’s no doubt to me that cats do not suddenly appear 10, 20 or 100 miles away from each other."

"They will be living in a territory which has a good food supply and living around that territory."

Abandoned

Leopard on a lead walking down the highstreet
Big cats were the height of fashion in the 60s and 70s

The number of sightings is often traced back to the 60s and 70s.

Big cats were popular fashion accessories and could be purchased in Harrods. But in 1976 a change in the law meant that keeping big cats was illegal without a license.

Licenses were expensive and this drove some exotic cat owners to dump their prized pets in the wild.

Debate rages over whether cats could have survived and bred since 1976 - leading to recent sighting.

Your evidence

It is eight years since the government last investigated the existence of such big cats.

David Gill
David is a conservationist and cat expert

In their report, the ‘Beast of Bodmin Moor’ in Cornwall was declared a myth. Due to the lack of evidence it is unlikely that further investigations will be launched in the near future.

David Gill says he is prepared to be convinced about big cats inhabitancy, "Let’s keep an open mind but we need more evidence."

Inside Out would like to hear from you if you have any evidence that you believe would convince David or an account of your own big cat sighting.

See also ...

On the rest of Inside Out
Big cats in the West Midlands

On bbc.co.uk
BBC: Beast of Bodmin captured on video
BBC News: 'Puma-like' animal spotted again
BBC: Conservation Now - Cats

On the rest of the web
British Big Cats Society
South Lakes Wild Animal Park

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Gemma
my mum and dad saw a puma and i just wish i was there to see one myself. they saw it in the moors or Burnley.

Lee Culley
I would like to know where they have come from all of a sudden?

Harriet
I have just finished reading a book on this subject, and I think that is exremely probable that big cats could be living and breeding in the wild, mainly due to the law passed in the 70's.

Maureen
I live near Penrith and I once saw a strange black cat in the fields behind our house. It was too large to be a domestic cat and it had a slinky, panther-like motion.

I was too scared to get up close to the animal, but it looked like nothing I'd ever seen except in a zoo. It was at dusk but no one else in the village spotted it at the time.

Peter Anderson
I know they are around, my wife actually grabbed one about 4 years ago! It was 5.30.a.m and it had one of our cats in its mouth,it was dark and my wife did not know what it was at first, but just grabbed at it with out thinking. It dropped our cat who had a gash in its neck and had just missed the jugular.

The following morning my wife looked out with caution and with a torch shone it down the back garden just in case. She saw a pair of yellow eyes about 4 yards away the eyes were about six inches apart. It ran off when she shone the torch at it. She said it was the size of a very large dog and black.

The cat survived but would never go out in the dark again. We found paw prints in the field at the back of our house and they were 4 inches across.

Paul
As an amateur wildlife photograher I have photographed many big cats over the last few years in Africa and in captivity in the Uk and they simply dont always just sit waiting to be seen. They are predators at the end of the day and rely on strength and stealth to kill.

I saw a big cat about 3 years ago, about the size and build of a puma. It was sat about 50 metres away licking itself before vanishing into the trees and this was no domestic feline.

I was in a group of about 20 people ageing from 20 to 45 but unfortunately didnt have my camera gear on me at the time but I know for sure they are out there.

Max Thompson
I think it's a load of rubbish, a camera trick.

Mazz
One evening coming home a fox ran out across the road and i braked to stop to avoid hitting it. The moment a large black animal some what like the puma showed on the program ran out after it and jumped the hedge at the side of the room. A couple of seconds later I heard a loud scream then silence.

Needless to say I drove home and whilst I can not be sure it was a puma I can`t say it was not.



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