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Wednesday, 28 August, 2002, 10:43 GMT 11:43 UK
Big cats 'on the increase'
Suspected Fen Tiger
"Evidence" includes footage of a suspected "Fen tiger"
Big cats are on the loose in Britain and breeding their way towards record numbers, a monitoring group has claimed.

The British Big Cats Society said it has received more than 800 reports of animals including pumas, black panthers, leopards and so-called Fen tigers over the past 12 months.

And while it admits that many sightings are of nothing more exotic than the average moggy, it claims to have "firm evidence" that the majority are real.

Society founder Daniel Bamping told BBC News Online he could cope with the critics and doubters, adding: "I was a sceptic, I thought it was in the same realm as the Loch Ness monster.

"But it's not, they are really out there."

'Cats with cubs'

Mr Bamping said there have been reports of big cats from every corner of the country.

Big cat reports
Hotspots include Scotland and Gloucestershire
January 2002 - Kent man clawed by suspected Lynx
November 2001 - farmer reports animals mauled by big cat
April 2001 - Lynx captured in north London
1999 - Puma-like cat attacks horse in Wales
"This weekend alone I have had sightings from Wales, the Scottish borders, Kent, the West Midlands, Devon, Somerset and Wiltshire," he said.

The society claims some of the big cats are breeding with domestic animals.

But Mr Bamping said others, particularly lynx and puma, probably exist in sufficient numbers to breed among themselves.

"We have had sightings of cats with cubs," he added.

'Trigger camera'

The society claims to have evidence proving the cats' existence, including photographs, paw prints, sheep kills and hair samples.

But it knows it will have to do even more to convince a sceptical public that it is not spinning them a shaggy cat story.

A national "trigger camera" project is planned which, the society hopes, will provide footage to prove the existence of the big cats.

Mr Bamping said: "The idea is that the cat will walk past the camera and take a picture of itself."

'Like dogs'

The society believes many of the sighting are of pets released into the wild, or their descendants.

Its spokesman Danny Nineham said: "In the 1960s and 1970s, people had big cats like leopards as pets and they used to walk them like dogs.

"But in 1976 when the Dangerous Wild Animals Act came into force, people released their cats because they did not want to pay for a licence, put them down, or take them to a zoo."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Daniel Bampin, Big Cats Society
"What clarifies as a big cat is whether it roars or not"
See also:

03 Jul 02 | Scotland
12 Oct 02 | England
05 Feb 00 | UK
19 Aug 99 | UK
27 Sep 98 | UK
16 Aug 99 | Wales
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