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Do Wild Big Cats Live in the British Countryside?

A recent alleged sighting of a black leopard in Staffordshire and DNA evidence featured in the documentary Panthera Britannia Declassified have sparked renewed interest in the idea that large felines may be living and roaming in the UK. Rumors of big cats such as leopards and mountain lions existing in the British countryside have been circulating for decades. Let’s explore what we currently know about these mysterious big cats.

Where does the photo come from?

In August 2023, an image was released by Dragonfly Films, the producer of the documentary, allegedly showing a black leopard in Smallthorne, Staffordshire. The photo was sent to the Centre for Fortean Zoology over a decade ago by an unknown individual. However, it is unclear whether the photo was taken of a cat freely roaming in the UK or if it was a captive animal.

Are there really big cats roaming wild in the UK?

The term “big cat” usually refers to species like lions, jaguars, and leopards. While there have been a few reported cases of such animals being seen in the UK, including a captured puma in 1980 and a lynx shot by a farmer in 1991, there has been no credible evidence of big cats in recent decades, according to the UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). However, some individuals, like Rick Minter from the Big Cat Conversations podcast, believe there is strong evidence suggesting the presence of large felines in the British countryside.

Where are they and how many are there?

There have been numerous alleged sightings of big cats across the UK. The British Big Cats Society receives hundreds of reports each year, although most of them are unverified and anonymous. According to Minter, the majority of reported sightings are of black leopards, followed by sandy-colored cats that could be mountain lions, and a smaller percentage are of lynxes. However, there is no concrete evidence of a stable and healthy population of these big cats in the UK.

Is there any evidence, beyond reported sightings?

Despite the number of reported sightings, there is currently no scientific evidence to support the existence of big cats in the British countryside. Some researchers have examined carcasses of animals like foxes, deer, and sheep, but only a small number show tooth marks that could indicate the involvement of a medium-to-large feral cat. More comprehensive evidence, such as DNA analysis, is needed to confirm the presence of big cats.

Do we have DNA evidence?

In the documentary, Dragonfly Films claims to have found DNA evidence of a big cat in Gloucestershire. While some experts like Hemmings and Minter are optimistic about this claim, others remain skeptical, emphasizing the need for transparent documentation and testing protocols.

If the big cats do exist, are they dangerous?

There have been no confirmed incidents of wild big cats attacking humans or pets in the UK. Experts believe that these cats would generally avoid human contact if given the choice and pose a negligible risk to people.

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