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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 March 2006, 08:36 GMT
SW claws to top of big cats list
Big cat in field?

The numbers of big cats being seen roaming the countryside around Britain is increasing, a report says, with South West England being a hot spot.

Devon, Cornwall and Somerset feature in the top 10 locations, according to the British Big Cats Society.

Devon has replaced Scotland as the top area for sightings. Scotland still came in third, and Wales was fourth.

Almost 60% of sightings were of black cats, and 32% sandy-coloured or brown, which the BBCS believes are pumas.

Another 6% were said to be lynx-type cats.

The thought of big cats roaming the British countryside has captured many people's imagination
Sophie Stafford, BBC Wildlife magazine

The British Big Cats Society (BBCS) report includes research to be published in the April issue of BBC Wildlife magazine.

The BBCS reveals that 2,123 sightings of big cats were reported across the country between April 2004 and July 2005.

Despite coming in third, Scotland saw almost a 50% drop in sightings. Wales was fourth on the list with 123 reported sightings and incidents.

New evidence of big cats includes a skull found by a Devon farmer in July 2005 that has been identified as that of a puma.

Continuing research

Other evidence includes three reported attacks on horses, over 35 incidents regarding sheep kills, several confirmed paw prints of which plaster casts were taken and 17 reports of a big cat with cubs - an increasing trend, which suggests that the animals may be breeding.

The BBCS has also gathered evidence of at least 23 releases of big cats into the wild since the Dangerous Animals Act was passed in 1976, including a panther, pumas, lynx and a host of exotic animals including caracals, ocelots and jungle cats.

Defra does not believe that there are big cats living in the wild in England

Sophie Stafford, Editor of BBC Wildlife magazine said: "The thought of big cats roaming the British countryside has captured many people's imagination, but until now proving their existence has been impossible.

"With fresh new evidence and sightings on the increase, the British Big Cats Society is now tantalisingly close to being able to provide conclusive proof of their presence."

The BBCS is hoping for national support from the government.

However, a Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs spokesman told BBC Wildlife magazine: "Based on the evidence, Defra does not believe that there are big cats living in the wild in England. We do not have a remit for animals in the wild in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland."

The BBCS said it intended to continue its research and obtain hard evidence by using camera traps that were triggered by animal movement helping them to "Prove and Protect" the big cats roaming Britain, determining species and possibly numbers.

Big cat footprint goes on display
07 Mar 06 |  Coventry/Warwickshire


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