BIGCATSINSUSSEX

big cat research in Sussex

Types of big cat seen in Sussex

The type of Sussex big cat encountered  right across the county is by far the British big cat.No one knows what these mystery cats are or where they came from for sure and can back up their statements with solid evidence however the descriptions told follow a general pattern that do not follow species-specific descriptions of say leopards or pumas.The big cats in Sussex are thus most often described as being from 20"to 26" tall at the shoulder with pronounced shoulder blades,very long, sleek muscular body,thick and chunky legs,very long tail,thickly furred in winter,a longish,thin neck,small head,square chin,small ,pointed ears with green eyes.The gait is usually low slung and creeping but the cat is capable of great speeds and excellent climbing abilities.It must be remembered that a big cats body shape changes drastically depending on what it is up to and a low slung looking cat when seen stalking can look tall and upright when seen alert and looking for prey or danger from afar.......

Colours are mostly black and when seen close up are often described as having a mottled brownish,grey undercoat in the form of rosettes.Other colours are brown or fawn,occasionally grey or rarely cream colour.The males are usually much larger than the females and are often brown,are more muscled and are thought to have much larger home ranges than the more often seen females who often appear more stockier.This is the type of big cat most often seen in Sussex,they have a viable population that has increased greatly since the late "80,s in step with the rise in deer and rabbit numbers,their principal prey,in fact their lives are undeniably intrinsically linked with their pricipal prey as they are with the moon.Numbers are hard to fathom exactly but at least 12 females and 4 males seem to make up the Sussex big cat population, probably more.Usually,the labrador sized cats are the females and the much larger ones are the males but there are,i think, exceptions as sometimes a very big cat can be female and a much smaller one sometimes a young male........

Witnesses have often said that they have "seen a black leopard" but then go on to describe a British big cat, there are marked differences which are:leopards have much larger heads and have rounded ears,shorter and thicker necks,shorter tails that are not as thickly furred.Leopards are much larger in body size and shape and are not fast runners but stalk and ambush their prey.British big cats or Bbc,s are often described as having more pointed ears on the top of their heads like domestic cats whereas leopards ones are rounded and have them more on the side.British big cats do share similarities however,Bbc,s are often,when seen close up,described as having a mottled,brownish-grey rossette  appearance to their undercoat just like black leopards whereas no domestic breed has this colouring.The tail curled up at the end is also a common theme.The behaviour of Bbc,s also displays a common theme with leopards,their home range distribution is similar that is very large,around 600+sq.km,a male encompassing 2 or more females in his own visiting each in turn as well as having similar movements throughout like winter and summer areas and following landmarks like ridges or major rivers(see bigcatsinsussex.blogspot.com for in depth article on this).British big cats may have their ancestry rooted in leopards however there is a fair amount of evidence to support the theory of hybridisation in the British big cat in fact more than counters it.As every day goes by the rule book of genetics gets rewritten by scientists because a new hybrid animal appears that quashes any previous uncontested scientific papers ,an interesting article appeared in ScienceDaily oct."07 see it here .

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070926143355.htm

Genetics is one of the most inexact of sciences.However, personally i think British big cats are a sub-species of  domestic cats that have adapted to the conditions in the British Isles zoologically speaking, for the type of sleek,different from a leopard-looking big cat most often described by witnesses and seen in pictures taken by the likes of big cat photographers like Carol Cowley it would take many,many decades if not hundreds of years to change it,s body shape......

I realise that this is a most fantastic and far fetched idea to have but have come to these conclusions through my own observations of these creatures and analysing the available data,this theory was one clung to through the early years however since then from "01 to now various samples of fur and scat have been microscopically analysed which draw this conclusion,in addition to this some large scat was DNA tested last year by a renowned lab and again domestic cat  came back in the results.There are and have been cats of leopard ancestry around but the evidence accumilated shows them to be in the extreme minority.Time will tell and clearly much work is to be done.Previous blog entries by myself have mentioned this theory but for the past couple of years  ,now wrongly I believe, did swerve in favour of the leopard ancestry....

The best way to determine what species we are dealing with is with Dna analysis and this can be obtained from saliva taken from fresh kills , droppings,most fresh scat contains some Dna material from the animal producing it by either cells scraped off from the colon or fur ingested by the cat as it licked itself, it does need to be tested straight away though,however lack of any outside funding for big cat research usually prevents analysis which is costly.Unfortunately much emphasis is placed on the recovery of a big cat carcase for study purposes and whilst i agree it would be the best way to assertain exactly what species the big cat is(only the one found obviously) it has encouraged a bounty hunter mentality pervasive in a minority of people wanting to shoot a big cat.This has led to many landowners keeping important big cat info and sightings secret as they very understandably do not want strangers poking about on their property with guns.The lack of a sufficient road kill big cat has led to many conspiracy theories on governmental hush ups or even public sceptism of the very existance of big cats loose in Britain......

Smaller types of big cat are also sometimes seen,the Longlegged cat has a racy appearance far removed from Bbc,s and has very long legs hence the name but so little is known about it they are however genetically linked to Felix i.e.domestic cat.20"tall at the shoulder also black,brown sometimes grey, sightings of these cats have reduced in the past decade and are now only in a handful of areas and this could be because of the rise of it,s larger cousins pushing them out.There are other sightings from across the country however,but their extra long tail distances it from the much documented and researched Kellas cat from Scotland (more can be found out if you Google Di Francis/Kellas cat )Of course it could well be that the Long legged cats are merely a variant but geneticaly identical to the Bbc,s....

Another type of cat,the Rudder cat,fox sized,large pricked ears,shaggy coated with a very thick otter-like tail,these thick set cats are even rarer than Llc,s but the odd photo does exist.A trail camera photo taken by me last year does show a vixen sized cat with a very wide tail but with a smooth coat,not confirmed to be a Rudder cat but looks very close...........

Various other species have been rarely recorded such as Lynx,Jungle cat(a hybrid of these with a tame cat was found in Shropshire a few years ago,also Serval cats which have become very popular hybridised again with Symese cats to produce the Savannah cat,these 20"tall,long legged cats are very "dog like" and will walk willingly on leads.Their very large ears and triangular shaped head discount them from Longlegged cats though which have extra small ears and rounder heads.Lynx sightings are often confusing with the witness stating they saw a cat just like  a lynx but then describe it having a medium length tail which a lynx wouldn,t have,their description would tally with the beast being a boxy looking rudder cat however.Misidentifications aside however and an accurately described lynx does get reported less than a handful of times a year so they must be around and often at the same places one year after another .The most famous of which was the lynx reported in the Sussex Express as having attacked a chap clearing scrub on Newick hill on 17.10.01,he was unharmed i might add.

It is beyond the scope of both my experience and this website to theorise much on the British big cats seen elsewhere in the country however it would seem from monitoring the regional press in other countys that at least 2 distinct sub-species have developed with the cats in the Midlands northwards displaying very big ears and stockier bodys this may be due to less reliance on rabbits or at least hunting them in deep cover but using the open ground thus needing better hearing also animals that can hunt by night using only their hearing need very large ears,like foxes for example however the big cats encountered in Sussex are almost without exception described as having small ears,this would account in part for the dramatic increase of sightings on the moonless nights of the month when they hunt mostly at dawn and dusk(crepuscular) and hunt on moonlit nights when there is better light(for them)to see by.Having smaller ears means they are mostly reliant on sight.This is all theory of course but the evidence to support this is overwhelming,all nocturnal mammals that hunt by sound have large ears in comparison to their size of head.........

Only very ,very occasionally have Pumas along with Black leopards  been recorded but with proper species-specific descriptions and they may well occasionally pass through Sussex ,unfortunately from a general research point of view a witness statement would either include puma if the cat that was seen was brown or leopard if it was black either by the witness themselves or the recorder,in depth analysis of the descriptions will just about always describe a Bbc.The scant Dna evidence cited by various sources has denoted that leopards,pumas and a type of cat unknown to science are or have been present in Britain but public access to this evidence like copies of the lab results has never been forthcoming and in the public realm.

The photos in the photo section show pictures big cats in the wild and photos of these big cats are very few and far between.All the pictures on the photo page apart from the American cougar are of cats taken in the British countryside and none of them appear to show the classic leopard shape..............