Report from George Markie
SCOTTISH investigators are working in collaboration with academic experts in the
UK and USA to prove that elusive big cats, such as those reported to be roaming the
countryside of Fife and Angus, do exist.
Experts from the Scottish Big Cat Trust (SBCT) are using the latest molecular biology techniques to collect and analyse cat DNA in order to confirm the species which are present and, where possible, their geographic origin and whether any hybridisation has occurred.
The official government line is that the cats do not exist, but research was given a boost yesterday when it was announced that the SBCT has been awarded charitable status, enabling it to continue its work studying naturalised non-native cats in Scotland.
The trust-formerly Scottish Big Cats/Scottish Big Cat Society - which is at the forefront of research into non-native cats, provides public access to a database of over 1200 sightings, as well as further information on the cats said to be currently living freely in the Scottish countryside.
It is the first time that a UK organisation focused on freeliving exotic cats has been recognised as a charity.
Dr John Murray, scientific officer, explained yesterday, "The recognition of the trust as a charity will ensure we can continue our work researching the cats that are free-living in Scotland and in turn educating the public regarding what species are present.
"While SBCT in no way whatsoever advocates the illegal release of these animals into the wild, we also have no wish to capture or eradicate them. Our aims are to study, learn and educate."
Honorary secretary George Markie said, "In recent years there has been a growing public acceptance that these cats really do exist. Farmers, gamekeepers and others that live and work in the countryside and who are familiar with local wildlife are reporting them.
"The main difficulty in obtaining evidence is that we are dealing with shy and elusive animals which want to avoid contact with humans."
Publications officer Dr Christina Anne Smith explained that the official government stance is that these animals do not exist. But far from being a conspiracy or cover up as some believe, she said the government's attitude is "quite understandable."
She explained, "To officially admit that the animals exist would be to open the door to demands that these dangerous alien species" be immediately eradicated. Before the government can be convinced, the attitude of the general public must change."
The Courier (Dundee), 26 th August 2003
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