UK Big Cats: Neil Arnold Responds

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Following my initial discussion of the idea of whether the Dangerous and Wild Animals Act had led to the surge of 'Alien Big Cat' reports, I was fortunate enough to have a brief email discussion with Neil Arnold - a renowned writer in the field, whose recently published Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Kent discussed many cases in considerable and personally researched detail.

You can learn more at his website:

While it is slightly humbling to be so thoroughly taken to school by such a figure, I think his thoughts - based on his own research - are worth sharing with anyone with a passing interest in the field and present them below. My thanks to Mr. Arnold for his comments. As an addendum, and in the interests of balance, I will also point out that not everyone agrees with his assessment of the evidence.


I completely disagree with what you've stated regarding 'big cats' in the UK and feel you have missed the point completely and feel that your opinion of such a situation is reflective of how the press works in its scepticism, especially regarding releases into the wild. 

As my book will point out, many large cats were purchased in the '60s as novelty, from Elizabth Taylors' ocelot, to the lion cub from Harrords- but mostly regarding people who obtained such animals on the black market. Most of these cats were smaller exotics - puma, lynx, jungle cat, leopard cat, the only 'big cat' being the melanistic form of the leopard. In some cases lions and tigers were purchased, mainly as cubs. These were novelty pets - kept in front rooms, under shops in basements, trailers - those that kept larger cats such as adult lions etc were listed by councils etc. Some owners cared greatly fo their cats - some didn't, it was a fad, a status symbol.
When the Dangerous Wild Animals Act was introduced cats were, as a fact, released - not every owner cared much for their cat - there are many cases on record of puma scratching children, or costing too much to keep, and if no-one knew you had a cat, then it would be easy to release one. This is the only answer as to why we have cat populations in the UK today - the biggest problem is the inadequate research being applied to the situation, hence relegating it to folklore.This is why it's vital I get my point across. Trawling through newspaper archives, Harrods receipts, etc, I was amazed at how many people purchased 'cute and cuddly' exotic cats - many of these were handed over to zoo parks when the act was introduced, some given to circuses, and a small amount released into the wilds. No-one has said that dozens of cheetahs and panthers (not a species of cat) were released in one area - this is once again a view that has come from sceptics and press. And those that released cats - only a fraction of these owners went on record to admit this. In the '90s a Torquay man phoned the police to say he'd released his melanistic leopard in an undisclosed area - he told the officer he couldn't control the animal. 
You say, 'Finally, we know of no known detailed convictions for releasing such an animal. If I released a tiger from my house in Leeds, I would soon be caught and prosecuted, as it would be pretty evident as to who the tiger belonged. There would also be a resultant furore, which again seems conspicuous through its absence.' This is incorrect - we are not dealing with lions, tigers, cheetahs or jaguars in the UK - lions, when escaping would seek human prey, be heard roaring a mile off and are a social animal, but leopard, puma, lynx, jungle cat, serval, etc. These cats were not the sort that were always kepyt in huge back gardens in huge cages - and if many animals, shacked up as adults were released after many years in captivity they'd be found easily, recaptured, or shot dead - for one they'd be used to being hand reared, secondly lacking excercise - but if cubs/kittens of puma, leopard, lynx were releasaed into the wilds they'd never be seen again.
You are also incorrect re; reports of snakes - after the introduction of the license, snake reports in the wilds did increase, the same as nowadays reports in the wild have increased of terrapins, snapping turtles and snakes and also alligators and crocodiles. It's also worth noting that one of the original explosions took place in the Victorian era with travelling menageries where there are numerous cases on record of animals escaping and being released and never seen again.The '60s very much mirrors the Victorian era in some aspects.
Firstly you need to look at exactly 'what' exotic cats are beings een in the wilds today to realise how important the Dangrous Wild Animals Act. It is also the only theory as to why such animals exist today. No zoo parks in Kent own puma or black leopard for a start, and zoo parks that lose animals often make the news and notify police etc.
Secondly, the opinion of DEFRA is a joke - an informant for the group states there are no big cats in the UK wild and yet at the cat sanctuary he runs there is a tree near the leopard compund which has been heavily scored. When I enquired to this he stated, "A leopard comes down from the woods when our female is on heat and often marks the tree."
I can understand why DEFRA and other authorities can't fully investigate such sightings - it comes down to money. I used to work with a zoologist who was a dangerous wild animal trapper employed by the government who, after tip offs, would send him out to remove illegal cats from sheds, garages etc. He'd also be paid to clear any bodies up reported on roads. This isn't about some covert operation, just the simple fact of lack of funding - rather strange when you consider that this year the polie on two occasions have wasted time and resources on hunting a 'white tiger' (cuddly toy) and a 'lion' on a ralway line!! It's these type of stories which make a mockery of the situation and then people laugh because they think that researchers like myself believe there are lions and tigers out there!!!
From people I've known over the years the general opinion is that it would have been easier for most people to have released a 'pet' cat rather than face a fine or pay a license fee - a majority of ex owners I've spoken to couldn't afford their animals but it was a buzz for them to have one in their garage or wherever. A majority of researchers (who I wouldn't trust) out there believe that people who owned cats would have admitted to their releases - this is rubbish. Researchers also believe that there was not enough people keeping acts in the '60s for their to be a population today - this is also rubbish. 
You mentioned 'millionaires' buying cats - this would have hardly been the case. A majority of people who illegally purchased/stole such animals were living on housing estates. These people couldn't afford the upkeep of such an animal, but to own one for such a short time was what seemed to be taking place. Of course, there were some rich owners quite happy to walk down the street with their puma etc.As I said, it was a fad - my book proves this by mentioning people who'd owned puma for a short time only to realise this animal was NOT something they could get affectionate toward and would eat them out of house and home.
The Surrey 'puma' was a typical case. Puma were quite popular pets in the '60s, alongside black leopards (I only receive reports of black leopard in the south of England rather than leopards of normal pelage When the act came into fruition puma sightings increased, but at the time most people described a 'lioness' (it's amazing how many people don't know what a puma is or looks like - I conduct lectures weekly and am amazed at how naive people are at identifying natural species let alone non-native species) and so this was scoffed at. The first puma report I have on record from Surrey comes from the 1700s - Cobbett's 'cat' was possibly a wild cat or a small lynx, nothing more.
The Godalming paw print may well have bene a leopard print - once again seem to be influenced by the legends rather than the facts of the case. At the time people were only looking for a fawn-coloured cat (although most people interviewed thought pumas were black) but there were also black leoaprd sightings in Surrey in the '60s but most of these were ignored. legends such as the Shooters Hill cheetah, Winchmore Hill lioness, and Edgware Tiger have been born over the yars due to inadequate research by the press and too many people putting scant detail out there. This is the major problem with 'big cat' research in the UK. Strangely, you may also consider the fact that in Australia and the United States there is a similar problem and to a lesser extent there have also been sightings of non-native cats in Italy, France, Denmark and Holland - and the reason it's to a lesser extent is because cats were not kept as part of a fad. Only recently there have been sightings in Northern Ireland as the laws were far more slack up until quite recently.
There is a lot of evidence such cats exist - sheep/deer dragged up tress, leopard scat, hair samples, paw prints, even smaller cats shot dead and run over - all of these have either escaped or been relased  there is no further option I'm afraid.
I hope this has been of some help. I've researched these sightings for more than twenty-five years and now conduct it fulltime, I've worked with zoologists, police, etc, mainly to dispel the myths put out there by sceptics and other researchers who for some reason think these animals are phantoms simply because they've not seen one. It's a terrible state of affairs, but by sending out the info I hope I can help make people aware of the orogins of such animals - if you do not side with the wild animals act theory then I can only suggest you try another, but you'll find there isn't one. Over the years there have been too many theories put forward to explain the 'mystery' which isn't a mystery at all, but you'll find that within us all there is a need for mystery, which can sometimes cloud the rather banal facts.

See also: folklore

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Author: Ian Freud   |  Last updated: 6th September 2013 | © Weird Island 2010-2019
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