Bumper year for big cat sightings

THEY'RE big, beautiful and secretive - and they're definitely out there.

2007 was a bumper year for big cat sightings in Sussex with the three types of cat now well established and breeding in the county.

So says Neil Arnold, organiser of Kent big Cat Research which monitors the creatures over Kent, Sussex, Surrey and South London.

Last year saw about 250 sightings in forests,woodland, the South Downs, farmland, railway lines and the coast.

Mr Arnold said: 'These are now British big cats. They are smaller than say African cats and have adapted perfectly to our climate.

'They prey on pheasants, rabbits, livestock generally and cats so there is plenty out there to eat.

'They present no danger to people.

'However, we would urge farmers not to take a pot shot at them as individual animals which have been wounded could turn on humans.'

He said there were three types of big cat now native to Britain.

These include the black leopard (incorrectly called the panther), the puma and the lynx.

Each type hunts alone at night and can cover a territory of 70-80 square miles.

If a breeding pair produces, say, two cubs, each of those young animals would also require a similar sized territory to hunt.

Mr Arnold said reports had flooded in of cats in woodland on the High Weald, the Ashdown Forest, Downs, remote countryside between Burwash and Battle - where a cat had attacked and eaten sheep - and even along the densely populated coastal strip as far west as Portslade.

He said the cats were brought into Britain in large quantities by the Romans and displayed in hundreds of Victorian travelling circuses.

He added: 'I don't understand why some people don't like to say they have seen them.

'The idea is not dismissed any more.

'I urge anyone who spots a big cat to ring me on 01634 830384 and tell me what it looked like, the time of day and where exactly it was.'

Sightings across Express country include Mount Caburn (both Ringmer and Lewes escarpments), the Seaford-Lewes railway line, the Cuckmere Valley and woodland near Chailey.

Have you seen a big cat?

Comment from Neil Arnold of the Kent Big Cat Research:

A Mark Williams commented below) that,You state: "These include the black leopard (incorrectly called the panther), the puma and the lynx."

In fact, the black or melanistic form of the leopard IS called a panther.

Most confusion is between the puma - a brownish big cat from America - and the panther, the black leopard found in Africa and in Asia.

What Mr Williams is not regarding is the FACT that the 'panther' is often used to describe a species of cat which of course, IS incorrect. Yes, the 'panther' is a term only used to describe the black (melanistic leopard) but in the U.S. it's also used to decsribe the puma.

In future Mr Williams, and also reporters, should read and state clearly to avoid confusion.

Thanks

Neil Arnold - KENT BIG CAT RESEARCH

Comment below or email: sussex.express@sussexnewspapers.co.uk

You state: "These include the black leopard (incorrectly called the panther), the puma and the lynx."

In fact, the black or melanistic form of the leopard IS called a panther. Most confusion is between the puma - a brownish big cat from America - and the panther, the black leopard found in Africa and in Asia.

Mark Williams