Report from Nick Wirsten
Letters to the Editor,
We have been following with interest the articles and recent correspondence in your newspapers concerning sightings of non-native cats in the Scottish Borders; in Peeblesshire particularly in the Cardrona area as well as Galashiels.
Scottish Big Cats are a team of researchers who are investigating non-native cats in Scotland. We aim to provide a central database of all sightings on non-native cats in Scotland, availab le to any interested persons over the internet (at http://www.bigcats.org.)
Our site also contains a repository of relevant information to help users understand more about these animals, and remove the preconception that they are a serious danger to the public. Additionally we are seeking to prove by scientific means what species of big cats are present in Scotland, and if possible their origin.
Most importantly, we would like to persuade the UK/Scottish authorities that these animals not only exist, but merit the full protection of the law. Our members include professional biologists, a veterinary surgeon, a retired police wildlife liaison officer and amateur naturalists.
Readers should have no doubt that non-native cats are at large in the UK. Those who believe they have seen a non-native cat should know that they are not alone. At our website at http://www.bigcats.org we have details of over 900 sighting dating from 1926, and analysis of photographs of probable cat kills and paw prints, etc., 75 of the sighting are from 2002 and 31 from the Borders.
Many of the cats at liberty are not "big cats," but smaller cats such as the Leopard cat which was shot on the Minto Estate, near Jedburgh, in February, 1998. These Leopard cats should not be confused with their much bigger relatives, the leopard, whose presence is also suspected in other parts of the UK.
The origin of the Minto Leopard cat is known. It was one of a litter reared at Edinburgh Zoo in the 1980s and was subsequently sold to a private collection in Cumbria, from which it escaped in the summer of 1987. It was loose for eight months before a gemekeeper killed it while attacking pheasants in February, 1988.
The origins of a second Leopard cat that was killed in Berwickshire in 1989 are not known however. The skeleton of one of these Leopard cats is preserved in the Royal Scottish Museum, in Edinburgh, and has been examined by members of the Scottish Big Cats team.
Another famous Scottish cat was Felicity the puma, captured by Ted Noble at Cannich, near Inverness, in 1980. She was elderly and rather tame and spent the rest of her days at the Highland Wildlife Park. When she died she was stuffed and can still be seen at the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery.
Another cat which is seen in Scotland is the Eurasian lynx, which probably became extinct sometime after the second or third century AD, although three were killed near Inverness in 1926. while some believe that lynx never became extinct, these animals may have escaped from a travelling menagerie.
More recently, there have been reports in the newspapers that several pairs of lynx have been illegally released in Scotland. Whatever the truth of this, if lynx have been released they would simply add to the existing, albeit small population. Anybody with a sighting of a big cat to report or who wishes more information can consult the Scottish Big Cats website at www.bigcats.org
I am, etc.,
Dr Christina Anne Smith, Scottish Big Cats.
Border Telegraph, 8 th October 2002, Peebleshire News, 11 th October 2002.
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