big cat research in Sussex

The prey of Sussex big cats

The preferred prey of  Sussex big cats are deer especially roe and young fallow,they tend to go for the youngest deer as these are the easiest to catch.Rabbits also make a large part of their diet as well as birds,voles,rats,foxes and possibly badgers.After many years of research i can state that in my opinion big cats do not take livestock except under unusual circumstances like in hard weather when deep snow may hinder them in their quest for their natural prey.Injured or very old big cats may also be forced to take the odd sheep or lamb and also possibly when they have cubs and their wild prey has been diminished for some reason.I am in constant contact with a lot of sheep farmers in areas where big cats are active and usually the answer is that they have had no sheep losses that could be attributed to big cats and cats have a very recognisable way of feeding on carcases..........

Generally speaking,big cats are oppurtunitist hunters but they do tend to target specific quarry at certain times of the year.Their diet changes as the seasons unfold.For big cats spring starts around late january and from late febuary they do seem to be mostly hunting that mainstay of prey,rabbits as most  sightings and other evidence of most cats at this time are in rabbit hotspots .The mixed farming and plentyful woodland of Sussex yield huge numbers of rabbits sometimes numbering several hundreds in fields and we also have a very large population of deer of all shapes and sizes.However they will also prey on foxes and fox carcases found at this time point to this.While hunting rabbits in the half light of dawn they also come across early rising birds like pheasants coming off the roost or ducks by ponds and rivers and will take these also.There is a distinct lack of deer carcases properly attributed as  big cats  kills in spring........

As spring progresses and the grass fields and arable crops grow longer the rabbits get harder to catch but birds play an increasing role in the big cat diet especially fledglings like below rookeries in late may where fledglings in their hundreds drop to the floor and,not being able to fly are easy pickings.The roe fawns that are born about now are usually safe until they are a little older and move about more when i,ve found their carcases which look like they have been killed and eaten by a big cat in late summer...........

In the height of summer there does seem to be a lot of food around for them and i have found the odd deer killed by big cats but not often,they will also take voles in large numbers where they have been observed in fields bouncing up and down feeding on them.Rats are also taken especially on or near tips.As regards for hares there is some evidence but only very little that they are preyed on by big cats,being very alert and fleet it,s imagined that they are cought off guard only rarely.When summer descends into autumn various trees like beech drop their mast and the oaks their acorns and this brings birds like pigeons onto the ground feeding hard to fatten themselves up for winter,where brambles offer a cat cover to stalk i,ve found pigeon carcases that looked like a big cat has eaten them but by mid october it does seem like the deer are being hunted hard.In 2010 i came across 3 roe carcases killed by big cats plus 2 that others had found and this was in the space of only 3 weeks and although rabbits are preyed on throughout the year it is now until febuary that deer feature very highly on the hunted list to the extent that it appears that the big cats actually follow them into the big woods where they hide up for the winter.Various other prey are also taken in winter and it is assumed that game birds like pheasants of which vast numbers fill the woods fall victim to big cats although it is extremely rare for a shoot to flush a cat from cover though not unknown.Another source of food could well be road kills or animals that are hit by cars and are just wounded,incredibly but also obviously,a lot of birds especially pheasants which rise up in front of speeding trains litter the rail tracks,railway lines are used frequently as travelling corridors and the surrounding  cover provides good lying up places(related article dated 1.8.10)............



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