Now and again, I get asked if government agencies take an interest in reports of strange creatures roaming the countryside – in much the same way that, for many years, official departents have investigated other forms of anomalous phenomena, such as UFOs. Well, the answer is “Yes,” there have indeed been such studies undertaken. As just one of many examples, consider the following.
Early in 1998, the British Government’s House of Commons held a debate on the existence – or otherwise – of a particular breed of mystery animal that is widely rumored, and even accepted by many, to inhabit the confines of the British Isles: the so-called Alien Big-Cats, or ABCs, as they have become known. It scarcely needs mentioning that Britain is not home to an indigenous species of large cat. Nevertheless, for decades amazing stories have circulated from all across the nation of sightings of large, predatory cats that feed on livestock and terrify, intrigue and amaze the local populace.
Indeed, there now exists a very large and credible body of data in support of the notion that Britain does have in its midst a thriving population of presently unidentified large cats – such as the infamous “Beast of Bodmin” and “Beast of Exmoor” that so dominated the nation’s newspapers back in the early-to-mid 1980s.
Documentation that followed the February 2, 1998 debate in the controversy in the House of Commons began with a statement from Mr. Keith Simpson, the Member of Parliament for mid-Norfolk: “Over the past twenty years, there has been a steady increase in the number of sightings of big cats in many parts of the United Kingdom. These are often described as pumas, leopards or panthers. A survey carried out in 1996 claimed sightings of big cats in 34 English counties.”
Many of the sightings, Simpson continued, had been reported in his constituency by people out walking dogs or driving down country roads, often at dawn or dusk. Frequently the description given fitted that of a puma or leopard. Simpson also added that in a number of incidents it had been claimed that ewes, lambs, and even horses had been attacked – and in some cases killed – by the marauding beasts.
Simpson elaborated further: “A number of distinguished wildlife experts have suggested that some pumas or leopards could have been released into the countryside when the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 made it illegal to own such animals without a licence. They would have been able to roam over a wide area of countryside, live off wild or domestic animals and possibly breed. So what is to be done?”
Simpson had a few ideas: “I should like to suggest two positive measures for the Minister to consider. At national and local levels, it is logical that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should be the lead Government Department for coordinating the monitoring of evidence concerning big cats.”
In response, Elliot Morley, at the time the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, admitted that there was a valid issue that needed addressing. He said: “The Ministry’s main responsibility on big cats is confined to whether the presence of a big cat poses a threat to the safety of livestock. The Ministry is aware that a total of 16 big cats have escaped into the wild since 1977. They include lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars and pumas, but all but two animals were at large for only one day.”
Morley expanded: “Because there is a risk that big cats can escape into the wild and because of the threat that such animals could pose to livestock, the Ministry investigates each report in which it is alleged that livestock have been attacked. Reports to the Ministry are usually made by the farmers whose animals have been attacked. In addition, the Ministry takes note of articles in the press describing big cat incidents and will consider them if there is evidence that livestock are at risk.”
On receipt of a report of a big cat, explained Morley, the Ministry would ask the Farming and Rural Conservation Agency – the Ministry’s wildlife advisers – to contact the person who reported the sighting, as he explained:
“The FRCA will discuss the situation with the farmer and seek to establish whether the sighting is genuine and whether any evidence can be evaluated. It will follow up all cases where there is evidence of a big cat that can be corroborated and all cases where it is alleged that livestock are being taken.
“The FRCA will consider all forms of evidence, including photographs given to it by members of the public and farmers, plaster casts of paw prints and video footage. In addition, it will carry out field investigations of carcasses of alleged kills for field signs of the animals responsible.”
In conclusion, Morley stated: “It is impossible to say categorically that no big cats are living wild in Britain, so it is only right and proper that the Ministry should continue to investigate serious claims of their existence – but only when there is a threat to livestock and when there is clear evidence that can be validated. I am afraid that, until we obtain stronger evidence, the reports of big cats are still in the category of mythical creatures.”
Of course, many of those British citizens who have seen big-cats roaming the countryside would perhaps strongly argue with the notion that these beasts are merely mythical in nature…