Alien Big Cat’s – Tracks and Signs

“Everyone is quick the blame the alien”  – Aeschylus

Alien Big Cats or ABC’s (Alien meaning of course, non-native to the county, not non-native to the planet) are a phenomenon of many countries. In some examples, especially the early ones, the sightings end up being true. The animals are usually either escaped captive animals, or pet animals that were released. With the introduction of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act in the UK in 1976, some animals were set loose, as regulations for keeping Big Cats became much more stringent. There have been many sightings of ABC’s in the wilds of the UK since then and they continue to occur to this day. Could animal’s released in the 70’s or after really by living, hunting and breeding successfully in the wild places of the UK


I live on the West coast of Scotland, and we had a local ABC legend in the village in which I grew up. I lived in a small village on the outskirts of Glasgow, for around 20 years. I have captured several lengthy and detailed sightings of the beast, and have been able to properly identify the individual on more than one occasion. I have identified the animal as a black coloured, large and well-muscled domestic house cat, living feral. I have seen him hunt mice and birds, and stalking in the long grass of a local golf course. I can easily understand how someone could confuse him for something more than he is. As any animal glimpsed briefly, in the distance, can be tricky to identify.


*below is a small, distant and out of focus photo my brother took a few years ago, what does it look like to you?




Why can’t an ABC exist?


In a small area, with no suitable habitat to remain concealed is extremely unlikely. Especially in a relatively highly populated area, such as the Central Belt of Scotland. If a large cat such as a leopard, cougar or jaguar existed, it would be likely be spotted often.


It would be very difficult for a Big Cat based in such an area, to find enough food. Without resorting to livestock a food source, it would not be easy to find suitable prey. Predating sheep would not go unnoticed, my farmers or the public. Although it is certain that many species of cats are generalists, and could possibly catch a rabbit, hare or pheasant every few days. However, it is likely that the slower, fatter and stupider animals, standing out in the open would be a struggle to resist for a large ABC.


Studies on wolves have shown that in natural habitats, with plenty suitable prey available, only small numbers of sheep are predated upon. An alien species, living in an alien habitat is unlikely to be as confident. Add to this the lack of decent numbers of natural prey species, local sheep would definitely be in trouble.


What if ABCs did exist?


To recognise the likelihood of any big cat living in the UK,  imagine for a minute that they actually did live in our wild spaces. What would we expect to see?


As already mentioned, we would expect to see a lot more sightings, the UK is a highly populated country for its size. Although Scotland has a significantly smaller population, most of the area that is inhabitable has people in it. The reality is that there have only been a very few sightings, none of which have been confirmed.


Often ABC’s are pursued by an individual, who is driven to find the animals. This is not a reliable source, and would be ignored if it was a criminal case. The person’s opinion would be considered to be bias and unreliable.


If we consider that every single ABC was all able to elude sighting, we would still certainly expect to find other sources of evidence of their existence.


We would most certainly find their scat, which would be numerous and easily identifiable. Specific mammals have unique types of scat which allows identification for the identification of the species.  Cats, like all mammals, will purposefully leave scat to mark territory, around large kills, under a favourite tree, basically whenever they want to claim as their own. This is an innate behaviour, that can even be seen in domestic cats.


Other physical evidence of a cat’s presence would be things such as hair-balls. All cats, for tabby to tiger, will cough up any un-digestible hair, either groomed from itself or consumed in prey. This does not degrade quickly and would also be easy to identify.


On the topic of prey, with a big cat nearby we would find evidence of predatory activity. Large numbers of partially consumed carcasses of sheep, calves, birds, rabbits or whatever the cat had been being eaten. This would be especially common for ABC’s as big cats are not equipped to consume the entire carcass of a kill. They would eat specific parts, and leave the rest of the animal. The UK doesn’t have any large scavengers any more. Most countries which do have large indigenous predator’s, also have large indigenous scavengers.  Although just about all of our predators will scavenge to some degree, it would still leave behind a lot of waste, for people to discover. These carcasses would be especially easy to find, as most mammals consume their prey in a hiding place, cats are not the same. They will most often consume their prey on a rock ledge, up in a tree, underneath a tree, etc.


If you did find a carcass it would be fairly straight forward to identify as a big cat kill, instead of a badger, a stray dog, a fox etc. Cats kill with a single bite to the throat, so the biggest give away would be very, clean and precise bite marks to the throat. The stereotypical big cat method of killing includes jumping onto the animal’s back and a precise and suffocating bite to the neck. Fine holes would be seen on each side of the wind pipe, slash marks on the sides of the animal and signs of the big cat beginning its meal at the shoulder and thigh. It is even possible to tell the species of cat by examining the wound pattern. Many species of mammal, will also leave scat next to a kill to claim the kill as their own.


We would also expect to see several other field signs left behind by a big cat. If you have a pet cat you will be aware of their habit of scratching their claws off inanimate objects, hopefully on a scratching post and not on your sofa. Big cats do the same, sharpening their claws on trees for example, which of course leaves very obvious evidence. Not only would there be large, and very obvious claw marks, but we would also find plenty of actual broken off claws lying in and around the bark.


As well as a great piece of evidence, these scratch sites would be an ideal place to make future sightings. Cats will use scratch sites constantly over periods of time, this is why a domestic cat scratches it’s scratching post. If you found a scratch sight, you could easily stake it out, or even easier, leave a trail camera. It would just be a matter of time before you capture conclusive evidence.


Not only do big cats have big claws, but they also have big paws which leave distinct paw prints. They are perfectly sculpted for silent stalking, therefore don’t leave as clear a print as a deer or dog might leave. They do however have quite similar prints to dogs, as to the untrained eye (or even the trained eye) they can look almost identical. When looking at a cat print however it is vital to remember that there will be no claw marks, as there are in dog prints, as cats have their claws retracted when they walk. Every alleged big cat print that I am aware of, has turned out to be either a fox, or a domestic dog, and every photo I have seen has been a domestic cat or native species of mammal.


Although it is claimed by many researchers of pseudo-science, absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence, and it is possible that ABC’s do exist, possibly in some isolated places in which humans don’t live, and that they have left no evidence of their existence. However, it is my opinion that ABC’s do not exist in the UK. There were times they have been found, however these were a long time ago. Animals are no longer kept in zoo’s in the UK, and the Dangerous Wild Animals Act was in the 70’s. it is not possible for these original animals to still be alive, and near impossible for them to have bred. In my opinion, claims of ABC’s are nothing more than media sensationalism of miss-identified species.


*it is a picture of a fox, although at first glimpse one could almost be fooled into thinking it were a cougar, or even female lion.

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Ben Wright

Ben Wright

I am a consultant ecologist with a special interest in protected species and birds. I have some past experience in science writing. I formally wrote a science column for a local paper, and composed a book based on the column (Science Matters) which has just been published.

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