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  Inside Out - Yorkshire & Lincolnshire: Monday September 29, 2003

BIG CAT SIGHTINGS IN YORKSHIRE

Web footage
Big cat
There have been more than 80 sightings in Yorkshire
Watch a big cat sighting one
Watch big cat sighting two
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Humberside Police are the first force in England to officially admit that they believe big cats are at loose in the countryside.

The force's wildlife officer, Sue Rhodes, makes the admission to BBC Inside Out.

She's dealing with more than 80 reports of big cats around the market towns of Driffield and Hessle. Many sightings were on the picturesque Yorkshire Wolds.

Sue says, "I think perhaps we’re dealing with two cats at least."

"The patches that they’re working are the set size for a large cat, perhaps a black leopard or panther."

Killing instinct

The deaths of three sheep at a farm at Little Weighton are among the incidents blamed on big cats’ presence.

Sue Rhodes, Humbersie Police Wildlife Officer
Sue Rhodes deals with the sightings reports

Farmer Nick Byass, whose sheep were killed says, "They were always killed where they slept, as if they were pounced on rather than chased."

Inappropriate pets

West Yorkshire Police recently seized two captive big cats from cages at a farm near Leeds.

Their owner told police he was planning to release the cats into the wild so he and friends could hunt them.

There are credible reports big cats are becoming popular as pets among criminals - especially those involved in the drugs trade - because of their deterrent effect on intruders.

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.

If true, this could explain the widespread nature of big cat reports.

Investigation

Inside Out presenter Morland Sanders camped out on the farm where the sheep attacks took place with sophisticated monitoring equipment usually used by wildlife documentary producers.

Morland’s tracking equipment suggested that there was some activity on the farm.

Although he did not actually see a big cat, Morland says that this does not necessarily mean that there was not one around. "They are very suspicious creatures and very successful at evading humans so it’s highly likely they heard me before I’d even got out of the tent."

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.

Licences 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.

Little concern

Despite Sue Rhodes’s admission that she believes big cats are at loose in the countryside, she is not overly worried.

"I don’t think there’s any real need for concern. There are animals out there that are far more dangerous than these singular cats."

"I personally think it’s quite a treat to have them here."

See also ...

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

On the rest of the web
British Big Cats Society

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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