There are quite a lot of people in the UK who think that there are big cats roaming around the countryside. One of these people is an “expert”, Frank Tunbridge. I don’t know what he is an expert in but he argues that there are big cats such as pumas and leopards in the British countryside because they were released as pets when the Dangerous and Wild Animals Act 1976 came into force.
There has to be a caveat to what I confidently state in this article. I’m a great sceptic as you can see but I can’t say with absolute certainty that there are no leopards or mountain lions in the countryside in the UK. There may be one for example and belowI refer to the possibility of this one animal.
He says that exotic pets were very popular in the 1970s and rather than kill them they were released. He says that the Act prevented them keeping their exotic big cat pets. However, the Act did not require them to get rid of their animals. It simply required them to keep any dangerous animal under a licence granted by their local authority.
What he says is unbelievable in my opinion and I give my reasons below. I don’t recall the keeping of leopards and pumas in the UK as being particularly popular in the 1970s. And if a person kept one of these large cats as a pet it would have been under controlled conditions. You can’t keep a leopard in your house. I don’t think anybody has ever done it because it’s completely untenable. You would have to have a private zoo to keep a leopard. Pumas are slightly different because they are more amenable to being domesticated or tamed. But once again you would need some form of enclosure which amounts to a private zoo.
You couldn’t keep a private zoo of any sort in the UK without it being noticed. This is not the USA were there is far more space. And I don’t believe that you could release a leopard or puma without that event being noticed as well. The neighbours would see it and call the police. Let’s just have a look at how the leopard behaves to see how untenable the idea is that they are wandering around the British countryside.
Leopard needs to eat
In Africa, leopards require up to around 4.9 kg of meat per day to live. This is around 11 pounds which is a little under one stone. That’s quite a lot and it means that this top predator would have to kill a small or medium-sized animal frequently, perhaps every few days, in their home range. This would be noticeable. We don’t get reports about animals being killed in the countryside on this scale. There are reports of the odd farm animal being killed but they can’t identify how the animal was killed. It is probably dogs.
UPDATE: Ironically, in today’s Sunday Times there is a short article on page 4 which reads as follows: Hunt for predator after 13 sheep die. It reads that the police are hunting for a “large predator” in Cheshire in a sheep-killing case with “extremely unusual elements”. The article also states that a sheep and two lambs were killed near a Salterswall farmhouse on Thursday night. A further 10 sheep died in a similar incident on December 30 last year. Did a leopard or mountain lion do this? We don’t know but the reference to ‘unusual elements’ points to that. However, we should not be led on by those words. There may be a simpler explanation. It could be people, for example. I remember a story recently about sheep being butchered in a field as if they were in an abattoir. Thieves were the culprits. Let’s be cautious but I am open to the possibility that on extremely rare occasions there may just be one large cat in the British countryside. I can’t rule out the possibility.
In India there are many human-leopard conflicts because their territory is being encroached upon by human population growth. So you see leopards in urban areas creating mayhem. Although leopards tend to avoid people and hunt at night, to do this they almost inevitably come into contact with people at some stage. They frequently prey upon and eat domestic dogs. We have never had reports of lots of dogs and cats going missing in a specific area of the UK where a leopard might reasonably be expected to live in the wild. Wrong? Please tell me in a comment.
Leopard home range
The home range of the leopard, by which I mean the area in which it decides to live, varies depending upon the location but, for example, in north-east Namibia male ranges are up to around 1000 km². Male leopards in the Russian Far East have ranges of at least 280 km². As you can see these are vast areas. 280 km² can be marked out as 10 km on one side and 28 km on the other. It would be impossible for a leopard to remain entirely hidden over many years if they occupied space that large in Britain which is a heavily populated country. There simply isn’t enough countryside devoid of villages or hamlets.
Lack of photographic and video evidence – coveniently blurred
Perhaps the most telling argument against the presence of wild leopard in the British countryside is that even after decades of sightings we have never seen a decent image. Nobody has taken a clear photograph of a leopard in the wild in the UK. It’s worse than that. The pictures are very poor in quality. There’s lots of video material but once again the quality is incredibly poor. You would think that after all this time there’d be at least one decent image but no.
An analysis of these images and videos reveals that they are of domestic cats. You can tell this by comparing the size of the animal to their background such as grasses and trees or fences. And the domestic cat gait is very different – far more dainty – to that of the leopard. When analysed these cats are always domestic animals and often black domestic cats.
The fear element
And I think the fact that they are often black is quite important. The black panther is another name for a melanistic leopard. This is a black leopard with faint ghost markings. Of all the big cats the black panther is one of the most feared by people. And I would suggest that a major reason why people believe that there might be big cats in the British countryside is because they are fearful of large cats (or any cat). This is an inherent, irrational fear. This fear is inherited perhaps from ancient times when big cats genuinely did pose a threat to human existence. I’m talking about 100,000 years ago. It is both a fear and fascination which encourages some people to believe that black panthers are roaming around the British countryside.
Few individuals and news media
And the notion that they exist normally comes from one or two committed individuals who spread the word. Also, the online news media, on quiet days, like to promote these fictional ideas to fill their pages. This also helps to promote the idea that these animals exist.
Distrust – conspiracy theories
Also there are a lot of people, particularly nowadays in an age of distrust, who believe in conspiracy. Conspiracy theorists are everywhere. We normally see it in respect of political matters. The current classic conspiracy theory is that the Covid-19 virus is a means for the elite to control the masses. And that 5G Internet access carries the virus which is technically impossible and ridiculously far-fetched. It’s an irrational thought process built on fear. I argue that the belief that there are big cats in the best countryside is built upon the same fear in conjunction with a tendency to believe in conspiracy theories.
Why do people believe in conspiracy theories? People believe in the most extraordinary things. A belief in God is itself extraordinary. It is built entirely on faith. There is no hard evidence to support them but they endure hundreds and thousands of years as they are so deeply embedded in the human psyche. It is part of the human condition. A large part of that is as mentioned fear. My belief is that everybody is fearful to varying degrees. They are fearful of the unknown. That’s why a lot of people live very cautious, restricted lives. A belief in a good assuages their fear.
There is a possible third element namely attention seeking. Some people like to draw attention to themselves; be experts and discuss their expertise with the news media. This simply spreads misinformation. To that you can add the fact that many people are gullible. Gullibility is a human failing. It is how the scammers of Britain get money out of people. It is how social media big business target advertisements. Gullibility is on the menu big time in Great Britain.
The big cat sightings conspiracy theory is a symptom of humankind’s inherent failings, most importantly fear of the unknown. It’s an expression of that fear but it is not real. It’s in their minds. After decades of big cat sightings in the UK there should be at least one genuine sighting with a decent photograph or video. There isn’t. I think that’s conclusive. What do you think?
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