ESSEX may have grabbed recent headlines, but the lion’s share of big cat sightings have come from the West Midlands.
The expanse of countryside between Birmingham and the Black Country – particularly Cannock Chase – has become a mane attraction for experts hunting lions, panthers, jaguars and even tigers.
Our patch has also suffered from the lynx effect, reports reveal.
And the alert that following Bank Holiday reports of a lion roaming St Osyth, near Clacton, pales against the thick dossier of sightings on our doorstep. A large cat caught on camera in 1989 - believed to be the 'Beast of Bodmin'
What’s more, that one turned out to be a shaggy dog – sorry, cat – story.
Just last month a so-called tiger sighting in Kingswinford turned out to be a fancy dress reveller on his way home.
Whether it’s the Cannock Chase panther or the wildcat of Cannon Hill Park, sightings of big cats are increasing.
According to the latest figures from the British Big Cats Society, 71 wild cats have been seen in Staffordshire, 48 in Herefordshire and Worcestershire, 33 in Shropshire and two in Warwickshire. There are numerous other unregistered incidents.
Nationally the total number of sightings this year has topped 2,300, compared to 2,123 last year and 780 in 2003.
Many believe animals seen today are descendents of beasts released into the wild over 40 years ago. In the 1960s, The animals were popular pets and could even be purchased in Harrods. But in 1976 the law changed and strict licensing laws were introduced over ownership of big cats. Licences were expensive and this drove some owners to simply dump their prized pets.
Arguments rage over whether cats could have survived and bred in the British countryside.
The British Big Cats Society has received more than 300 sightings across the Midlands in the last eight years.
The spokesman said, while a third of sightings could be discounted as the work of cranks or cases of mistaken identity, others were very believable.
A man cycling through Cannon Hill Park, Edgbaston, reported seeing a big black cat with a long tail hunting along the banks of the River Rea.
Cannock Chase is the UK’s big cat capital. There have been many sightings – mainly of a panther.
The nearby village of Stretton, close to Penkridge, is also a regular big cat haunt. A panther has been seen in a barn, crossing the A5 and is suspected of killing two geese.
There has also been dozens of sightings around Tamworth. Most have involved a big black creature resembling a puma.
A police officer, walking her dog, spotted the beast running across the same stretch of road twice in two days last November.
Nationally, about 60 per cent of reported sightings were of panther-like cats, 32 per cent were brown or sandy-coloured creatures – possibly pumas, and six per cent resembled a lynx.
The society’s national figures included five attacks on horses, 37 sheep kills and several paw prints, of which plaster casts were taken.
The society said it had also gathered evidence about 23 big cats releases since the Dangerous Wild Animals Act came into force in 1976.
But a spokesman for the Wildlife Trust questioned why there are no decent pictures of the animals.
He added: “What we do know is that big cats have been released from captivity at different times over the past 20 to 30 years.
“I think there probably have been, or are, big cats on the loose in this country but the big question is, why can people go to remote parts of the world and get footage of rare big cats but there are no decent images of big cats here in England?
“When people see things in poor light, the light can play tricks on perspective and the perception of size.”
* THE 1970s law banning dangerous animals from being kept as pets was introduced following Black Country businessman Lew Foley’s refusal to give up the lions he kept in his back garden.
Lew, a former member of the Household Cavalry, was best known for rescuing a lion that faced being put down – and keeping it in his Cradley Heath home.
He went before magistrates in Smethwick to answer charges he illegally kept the beast.
He shocked JPs by turning up in court wearing an evening suit accompanied by a lion tamer sporting a long blonde wig. Foley kept raising his arm shouting to the bench: “Leave my lions alone.” Lew Foley at home in 1976 with Laddo the lion
The eccentric businessman, who died in 2009, had always maintained big cats were alive and breeding in the Midlands’ countryside.
He often stated he knew of at least four people who released their animals into the wild.
Article Link from 03-09-2012