Report from Chris Smith and Phil Crosby
We are grateful to Richard Lochhead, MSP for North East Scotland for sending us these documents and allowing us to reproduce them here.
19th February 2002
Christina Smith, member of the Scottish Big Cats Team, sent me an email on 20th January asking that any reply I received from the Minister in response to my letter about "big cats" be sent directly to you.
Accordingly, I now enclose that reply and also a copy of my original letter for your information.
If I can be of any further assistance to you please do not hesitate to let me know.
Richard Lochhead MSP
18th January 2002
Minister for Rural Development
47 Robb's Loan
You may have noticed a recent case near Insch, in Aberdeenshire, of a woman being attacked by what she felt to be a "big cat" or perhaps a Kellas cat. There have been numerous sightings of such creatures in the North East going back many years, and cases such as the on east Insch obviously create some anxiety in these areas.
I wondered to what extent your department was aware of this issue and whether there was any data on the number of sightings in different areas of Scotland in the past few years? Have any investigations been carried out into such sightings by the authorities? Is there any role for central government to take in such cases? Do you feel there are any implications for livestock if more than a handful of such creatures are roaming the countryside?
It has been mentioned that one of the possible roots of such sightings is the illegal importation of animals for pets or for sport. While this is a matter for Customs & Excise I wondered whether the Rural Development Department has had any involvement with instances where illegally imported animals, particularly "big cats" have been released into the wild? Additionally, is there any evidence to suggest that such animals have been released, or escaped, to the wild, particularly since 1984 when there was a change in the law about the ownership of certain animals, and then mated with domestic or feral cats to produce hybrid beasts?
While this may be one of my more unusual requests, I look forward to your response.
Richard Lochhead MSP
14 th February 2002
Thank you for your letter of 18 January concerning reported sightings of "big cats" in Scotland, particularly the North East.
The Scottish Executive Environment & Rural Affairs Department is aware, from press reports, of the alleged sightings of big cats. However, when sightings are reported it is usually to the police for their interests in relation to public safety under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976.
SEERAD does not maintain data on reported sightings.
The only information my department has about investigations into sightings is that carried by Grampian Police, with the aid of a veterinary investigations officer and a zoologist with expert knowledge of carnivores, during the winter of 1994/5.
This involved examining the scene and carcass of any alleged attack over a 3 month period and where possible an autopsy was carried out. The investigation found evidence of foxes and dogs but no evidence to support the big cat theory. Grampian Police have an enquiry team to investigate reports of big cat sightings in the area.
If any alleged attacks in wildlife are reported to my department they will be investigated by Agricultural Staff at the local area offices. Advice can also be provided by the Wildlife Management Branch of the Scottish Agricultural Science Agency. Evidence suggests that dogs cause the majority of injuries to livestock if the victims were alive prior to the attack or by native predators and scavengers such as foxes, badgers and corvids if the victim were already dead or disabled.
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.
Ross Finnie MSP
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