BIG CAT SIGHTINGS
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
Sue says, "I think perhaps we’re dealing with two cats
"The patches that they’re working are the set size for
a large cat, perhaps a black leopard or panther."
The deaths of three sheep at a farm at Little Weighton
are among the incidents blamed on big cats’ presence.
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
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.
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
Pumas live for an average of 12-13 years in the
If true, this could explain the widespread nature of
big cat reports.
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."
cats were the height of fashion in the 60s and 70s
The number of sightings is often traced back to the 60s
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.
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
"I personally think it’s quite a treat to have them here."