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   Inside Out - West Midlands: Monday 10th February, 2003

BIG CATS ON THE PROWL

Two pumas
CATS IN THE WILD | These massive moggies have been supposedly sighted around the West Midlands

In the last 12 months there has been over 100 sightings of big cats around the West Midlands, and we don’t mean the overweight moggy from next door! Inside Out goes on the trail to find out if pumas and panthers are prowling around a neighbourhood near you.

Cannock Chase in Staffordshire is a veritable big cat hotspot and there have been many supposed sightings over the last few months. Witnesses report seeing a large black cat with a long tail but this one certainly won’t answer to the name of Felix!

Paw print in the snow
A cast of a big cat paw print helps to track down the illusive creatures

The nearby village of Stretton is also a regular haunt of the creature, and it has been seen in a barn, crossing the A5 and is the suspected killer of two geese.

Sceptical? Well your not alone and villagers are all too aware of reactions to their claims’, which is why they are reluctant to speak out.

Feline tails

But 20 miles down the road in a village near Tamworth, sightings are so frequent that everyone’s got a tale, or should we say tail, to tell?

We meet one man and his dog who need no convincing that a big cat is lurking nearby.

Footage of a big cat hunt in the 1960s
Sightings of big cats date back as far as the 60s with the famous Surrey Puma

Simon’s dog Jasper was in the garden one night. After hearing a yowl, Simon went outside to investigate. He found Jasper with an eight inch gash across his body and when Simon flashed the torch around the garden, he saw another pair of eyes looking back.

A morning inspection revealed large paw prints which Simon is convinced are that of a big cat. A further 16 sightings around the village strengthen his belief even further.

"When you collate it with other evidence from around the village, it really gives us 100% proof in our minds that this is what actually happened," claims Simon. Jasper, who is now back to full health, can only wag his tail in agreement.

The notion of panthers and pumas living wild in Britain is certainly not a new one. In 1963 the police and army were out in force to hunt the famous Surrey Puma, but no evidence was ever found.

Captured on camera

So many people claim to have seen these animals, and many have footage, albeit grainy footage as evidence. Is this enough to convince our expert?

"When you see a creature, often in bad light, often at a distance, perhaps in thick vegetation, it is genuinely difficult, even for a professional wildlife biologist, to be sure of what they’re seeing," says Memologist, Dr David McDonald.

It will take more than some blurred footage to convince David. However, Louis Foley from Dudley is certain they are out there and even claims to know how they got there.

The purrfect accessory

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

Forget handbags and shoes, in the 60s and 70s big cats were the must-have fashion accessory and could be purchased in Harrods. With the tightening of the law in 1976, many of these animals were cast out into the wild.

A lion and tiger owner in the 70s, Louis Foley claims to have known at least four people who released their big cats into the wild and it’s bad news for those of you in Nottingham, where two of them were set free!

"Some cats can live up to 30 to 40 years if they look after themselves," says Louis. "I think there is still a couple of original ones out there."

Louis Foley with a lion
Louis Foley believes that pumas and panthers were released into the wild

But how feasible is it that once released, they could survive independently? According to one expert, it is a real possibility. A fully grown puma would only need about two rabbits a day to survive.

Unconvinced

This is still not enough to convince our expert, who points out that if these animals were successfully surviving and reproducing in the wild, it would be virtually impossible not to encounter them. In the last 20 years, surely one would have been knocked down by a car, or caught in a trap?

"For 20 years, for a (big cat) population to be existing in our densely populated country without an individual being held in hand, is pretty unlikely," says Dr David McDonald.

Whilst David remains unconvinced, there are many in the West Midlands who will not be told otherwise. Inside Out will remain on fence for this one - at least we’ll be safe from the cats up there!

See also ...

On bbc.co.uk
Big cats on the increase
Armed stake-out for big cats

On the rest of the web
UKbigcats.co.uk
British Big Cats Society

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.

David Birch
I live in Fillongley, North Warks. At 6.15am one morning in September 2000, I was travelling towards Meriden on the B4102 when, just ahead of me, a very large black cat, larger than an alsation dog, and with a long black tail, bounded across the road in front of me, and disappeared in to a small copse.

A local farmer has also confirmed sightings of an adult with 4 cubs.

margaret charles
i saw a big cat onsat 8 of feb in the field behind the house i have never seen anything like it before never seen any move so fast it was the big cat now been seen three times around all by people.

toni hunt
i live in denby village derbyshire and i have definately seen something very similar in our 14acre field where there is no public right of way we mentioned it to the local farmers and some of them say they have also seen something but are too embarrased to say anything.

matthew
I cycle on the chase every week and in november 2002 we saw a big cat walking on the opposite side of the valley above seven springs car park.

it was in my sight about 100 meteres away for about 30 seconds from the height of the ledge next to the path we could tell that it was definitely the size of a big cat.

Also when on a different ride in the same area but quite close to the TA camp, off track in dense woodland we heard a deep growl just like the one featured on the programme but alot louder~ a scary experience as it was only metres away i didnt stop to get a sighting!

i know there are big black cats on the chase.

J.M.P
My mum said she saw one of these 'pumas' jumping over a fence by the side of a road in the cannock Chase, it apparently had a long tail, and long whiskers, definatly no a normal house cat, i wouldn't like to meet one down a dark forest footpath.

It's the cat of the Chase!

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

JAS
I first spotted a wild cat back in 1994, I used to take my dog for a walk in the country lanes near a village about 4 miles away from Rugby in Warwickshire, it appeared to be a young wild cat, possibly a puma, and ran at great speed along a hedge in a field, after making a hissing noise, I wasn't quite sure what it was until after seeing the speed it ran.

four years later I saw a much larger cat, about the size of a large german shepard dog, sitting in the middle of the road, again, this was near the same area,but about 3miles down the road, it got up, as i approached it in my car, and in 2 leaps it was in the hedges and into the woods.

it's not something you would want to tell many people, as not many would believe you, unless you see it for real !

cooper rh
for around the last 40 years i have walked on and all over cannock chase two to three trips a day around 7am and in the summer about 8.30pm. and at no time have i seen any big cats.

Sue
I saw a big black cat just outside Upton-upon-Severn last year. They have been around that area (my husbands family all live aroubd there mainly on farms) and have seen them regulaly.

As i was travelling along the road, i glanced across and saw it just sitting there. It was amazing! Sheep etc have been killed by them and there were once regular footprints across the fields.

MR S SMITH
AT CHRISTMAS I SAW A LARGE BLACK CAT, RUNNING THROUGH WOODS BETWEEN ATHERSTONE GOLF COURSE AND MANCETTER QUARRY EARLY IN THE MORNING, ITS APPROXIMATELY 6 MILES FROM WARTON, IT WAS DEFINATLEY NOT AN HOUSEHOLD CAT.

Anthony King
I had a clear sighting of a Black Panther last year, just north of Hils Ridware, at 11.00pm on 30th April.

I am a regular bird watcher, and often do wildlife trips. I know what I saw, in the headlights of my car, and it was just leaving a farm. I saw a fox about 1 mile later, and it was much smaller.

David Battye
I have seen wjhat I belieeve was a big cat near the river Trent at Repton. It was black, had a long and curling tail and was crouching in the grass. It was much larger than a domestic cat and certainly not a dog.



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