There have been over 1,000 reports to the Scottish police concerning sightings of big cats over the past 20 years. At least one puma has been trapped and two Leopard cats were shot in the Borders. Despite this, the official government view is that there is no conclusive evidence that there are big cats living in Scotland.
The matter has been debated in the House of Commons and in 1995, Alex Salmond, the MP for Banff and Buchan, called for a Government inquiry which was refused by the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Forsyth.
Noted below are some details of government reaction to ABCs and of laws which have been passed directly or indirectly concerning big cats. We are not sure whether all these acts are still on the statute books as when the Dangerous Wild Animals Act (1976, ammended in 1982) legislation became law, some older acts were apparently repealed.
Note until the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, Scotland was the only country in the world to have its own legal system but no legislative body of its own. In the past, despite the fact that the Scots legal system is considerably different to that in England and Wales, the UK parliament tended to simply apply English law bills to Scotland which caused considerable problems and confusion. We are uncertain as to whether all the laws noted below are actually applicable in Scotland.
|1960||The Abandonment of Animals Act was passed. This act was introduced to deal with, amongst other problems, pets which had been bought as Christmas presents being abandoned. It can, in theory at least, also be applied to the release of other animals such as big cats into the wild.|
|1976||The Government introduced the Dangerous Animals Act, which made it illegal to keep any species of animal that might be considered dangerous - such as big cats - without a licence. This Act was intended to protect members of the public and the animals themselves. Unfortunately the initial result was the release into the countryside of a number of potentially dangerous animals by owners who did not wish to see their 'pets' put down.|
|1981||The Countryside and Wildlife Act was passed. Amongst other things, this made it illegal to release into the wild in the United Kingdom any non-indigenous animal. This act is now seriously dated and is to be reviewed by the Scottish Parliament.|
|1988||Following the first quinquennial review of the Countryside and Wildlife Act, "wildcats" ("cat, wild Felis silvestris," were added to Schedule 5 which defines animals protected by the act. This made it illegal to persecute Scottish wildcats.|
|1992||Following the second quinquennial review of the Countryside and Wildlife Act, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee proposed that "wildcat hybrid (of wildcat appearance") be added to Schdule 5. The proposal was not accepted.|
|1996||The Wild Animals (Protection ) Act was passed. This act was introduced to deal with cruelty charges against any animal whether native or not.|
|June 2000||Scottish Environment Minister, Sarah Boyack, announces her intention to publish a policy statement on wildlife law reform. Dr Sam Galbraith, who replaced her in November, confirms this intention.|
|2000||The Protection of Wild Animals (Scotland ) bill is at the committee stage in the Scottish parliament. The bill is sponsored by Labour MSP Lord Watson of Invergowrie and co-sponsored by the SNP's Tricia Marwick. It is intended to protect mammals such as foxes, hares and mink by stopping the use of dogs in sport. (Deer are protected from being hunted by dogs since the Deer Act of 1951.)|
|November 2003||The Dangerous Wild Animals (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 is in the consultation stage.|
|24 May 1990||In a court case at Stonehaven Sherriff Court a defendant was acquitted of charges of killing three wildcats because an expert witness could not state "beyond reasonable doubt" that the cats were true "wildcats" and not hybrids.|
|December 1994||Grampian police set up a special police squad to join the hunt for a recently sighted 'puma-like' animal stalking woods near Huntly in Aberdeenshire.
Tayside Police later followed their Grampian counterparts in appointing an officer to investigate reports of a predatory big cat roaming the rural areas and killing sheep.
|1994||Volunteers from the 3rd Battalion Highlanders based in Elgin began nocturnal high-tech surveillance exercises in search of ABC's|
|19 th July 1995||Banff and Buchan MP Alex Salmond called for a government inquiry into Grampian ABCs and livestock depredation|
|24 th October 1995||Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth dismissed claims of ABCs in Grampian, saying that depredations were due to dogs and foxes.
And look what happened to him :-)
|May 1997||Television wildlife experts are scouring the Grampian countryside in a bid to find an elusive black cat. Previous searches for the so-called Beast of Buchan have proved fruitless, but now the BBC's Natural History Unit is attempting to solve the mystery as part of of an in-depth survey of mythical creatures for its X-creatures series.|
|2 nd February 1998||Although this debate in the House of Commons was primarily about Big Cats in Norfolk, the 'cougar of Cupar' was cited early on and in summung up, the Minister for Agriculture talked of Felicity the puma saying 'Of the 16 escaped large cats, the two that stayed at large for some time were a leopard and a puma. The leopard managed to avoid capture for seven days, after which it was cage trapped. The origin of the puma, which was captured near Inverness in 1980, is unclear, but it was quite tame and has subsequently been kept in a wildlife park. That sounds like a case of a semi-domesticated animal that was released into the wild.'
The minister concluded by saying 'It is impossible to say categorically that no big cats are living wild in Britain, so it is only right and proper that the Ministry should continue to investigate serious claims of their existence - but only when there is a threat to livestock and when there is clear evidence that can be validated. I am afraid that, until we obtain stronger evidence, the reports of big cats are still in the category of the mythical creatures that the hon. Gentleman mentioned in his opening remarks.'
|25 th February 1998||Conference of more than 60 high-ranking policemen at Tulliallan Castle, Kincardine, Fife, to discuss ABC sightings. One speaker was Dr Hans Kruuk of the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology in Banchory, Aberdeenshire, who was sceptical of the possibility of big cats roaming the countryside, but thought each reported sighting should be taken seriously.|
|26 th November 2000||The Welsh Assembly announces it will conduct an investigation into non-native cats and appeals for sighting data from farmers. Will the Scottish Parliament follow their example?|
|23 rd February 2000||Environment Minister Sarah Boyack addressed the Scottish Police Wildlife Liaison Officers' annual conference at the police training college at Tulliallan, near Alloa.Tayside Police wildlife liaison officer Neil Macdonald said the killing was a matter of great concern. Wildlife liaison officers (WLOs) are police officers who have an interest in the prevention and detection of wildlife crime.|
|18 th January 2002||Richard Lochhead, MSP for North East Scotland, writes to Ross Finnie MSP, Minister for Environment & Rural Development concerning non-native cats.|
|14 th February 2002||The Minister replies "It is certainly a theory that big cats are descendants of either illegally imported animals or those released when the law concerning ownership changed. My department is not aware of any evidence to substantiate this nor been involved with instances of illegally imported animals being released into the wild.".|
|10 th April 2002||Big cats in Wales: The Secretary of State for Wales was asked about the number of sightings of big cats in Wales over the last 12 months. He replied that in 2001 there were seven reported sightings and four reports of livestock kills, while in 2002 there has been one reported big cat sighting and two alleged live stock kills due to big cats. Sightings concerning threats to livestock are compiled by the Wales Secretary for Rural Affairs in the Welsh Assembly|
|October 2002||DEFRA publish means of reporting sightings of exotic animals, including big cats|
|3 rd February 2002||Exotic Cat Group at University of Wales Swansea express the opinion that injuries inflicted on a whippet which was attacked inside a securely fence enclosure at Llangadog are fully consistent with the style of attack used by a leopard.|
|February 2002||Labour's Countryside Minister Elliott Morely stated he believed that witnesses are "genuinely and frequently mistaken with their identification," and questioned the "lack of hard evidence compared to the number of reported sightings. However, "Despite his scepticism Mr Morley was careful, in his Parliamentary answer, to keep his options open on the existence of big cats in the British countryside. In time, he may well be glad that he did."|
|December 2003||Following lamb attacks the Welsh Assembly called in an "expert" to investigate the killings. An assembly spokesman said: "The post-mortem examination revealed thatthe lamb had been killed by a predator but was unable to identify the species."|
|February 2004||Ex Foreign Secretary Robin Cook spends holidays in India tiger spotting with his wife. He hopes that their efforts may help preserve the magnificent animal from extinction.|
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