Frequently Asked Questions
FAQ by George Markie, Chris Smith and Phil Crosby
Felicity the puma can be seen at the Inverness museum and art gallery
Frequently Asked Questions
- What does the Scottish Big Cats Trust do?
The Aims of the Scottish Big Cat Trust, as defined by the Charity's Constitution are:
To advance the education of the public about exotic cats in Scotland and in furtherance thereof the organisation shall seek:
- to provide a central database of sightings of free living exotic or naturalised exotic cats in Scotland, available to any interested persons over the internet.
- to provide relevant information to help any interested persons understand more about these animals.
- to discuss, and to examine closely and scientifically sightings and witness accounts before these are accepted as proof of free living exotic or naturalised exotic cats in Scotland.
- to determine by scientific means what species of free living exotic or naturalised exotic cats are present in Scotland, and if possible to determine their origin.
To prove that non-native species of cats exist in the British countryside.
- What sort of people are involved?
The Executive Council of the Scottish Big Cats Trust includes amateur naturalists, professional biologists, veterinary surgeons and retired Police Wildlife Liaison Officers.
- Aren't big cats in the same category as UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot?
Absolutely not. We are dealing with real animals not flights of fancy.
We have recorded over 1300 sightings of non-native cats across Scotland and whilst the quality of these sightings vary many of them are from highly credible witnesses.
These animals are real and there is already considerable evidence in the form of animal kills and attacks etc. These are not Fantasy cats, Mystery cats, or even Alien Big Cats, they are non-native animals which have become part of the British fauna like the rabbit and the grey squirrel.
- What kind of cats are out there?
Scotland supports a diverse range of bigger cats: puma (aka cougar/mountain lion), black leopard (aka black panther) and lynx.
Additionally there is evidence for lesser cats such as the jungle cat, leopard cat and caracal.
- How many cats are there?
It is difficult to estimate numbers. A survey would take up a vast amount of time and manpower, as those who have participated on studies such as the Mammal Society's Winter Mammal Survey will be aware.
Marcus Matthews, who has over 15 years experience and over 1,000 reports of sightings, has said "We are talking of maybe 50 big cats out there, ranging from black leopards to lynxes and smaller jungle and leopard cats." Police big-cat tracker Steve Ashcroft also believe there could be as many as 50 and has said added:"By now some of these cats would have got together and produced litters."
Terry Moore of the Cat Survival Trust believes the estimate of 50 big cats at large may be a little high but is confident there are as many as 24, from seven different species, living on the mainland of Britain.
Other estimates have put the numbers as high as 150 - 200.
- What about wildcats?
According to a Scottish Natural Heritage study, Scotland has just 3,500 native Scottish wildcats, and 130,000 feral cats. These have probably been interbreeding for centuries. However one recent scientific study has suggested that relatively pure wildcats still exist, especially in more remote areas.
- What is a Kellas Cat?
The appellation 'Kellas cat' is a generic term that is often used to describe any large black wild living cat. Specifically, the name was used Di Francis, the author of My Highland Kellas Cats to describe the cats which she studied in the 1980s, several of which were found nearby the village of Kellas in Moray. Previously, these black wild living cats had been known as 'Wangie' cats. Initially thought to be a possible new species, several 'Kellas cats' were examined by scientific methods and were reported to be either melanistic wildcats or wildcat/feral cat crosses.
'Kellas Cats' may be responsible for some of the reported sightings of 'black panthers'.
- Where did these exotic cats come from?
One theory is that all such animals are the result of animals released at the time the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act came into force, but there are reported sightings dating back many years before that.
More recently, there have been unconfirmed reports of deliberate releases of lynx into the Scottish countryside.
In Cat Country: The Quest for the British Big Cat Di Francis subscribes to the thesis that a "large, unidentified carnivore is quietly living in our countryside, a living fossil, waiting to be discovered and classified". This theory is disputed by other researchers.
However, while the lynx was, until recently, believed to have become extinct in neolithic times, radiocarbon dating of a skull has revealed that lynx were present in Scotland in the second or third century AD, and these were unlikely to be the last lynx. Some believe that the lynx never became extinct in Scotland and has continued to breed in remoter areas.
In the past big cats were sometimes kept by royal and noble families and several escapes have been documented. There have also been docimented escapes from zoos, and especially from the travelling menageries, which were extremely popular in the 19 th century.
- What kind of people are seeing them?
All kinds of people. There are policemen, doctors, lawyers and journalists who have seen big cats in Scotland. Most importantly, many of the reported sightings come from countryside workers such as farmers; gamekeepers etc who have spent many years in the Scottish countryside and are very familiar with it's wildlife.
- Have any of you actually seen a non-native cat yourselves?
Members of the Trust have had total of eight sightings of non-native cats.
George Redpath has had three personal sightings, two from 1998 and the most recent in June 2002.
Phil Crosby spotted a large black cat near his a home in May 2001 and again in October of that year.
In May 2002, George Markie saw a large grey cat with dark grey mottling on it's back in Fife.
Mike Inglis saw a non-native cat in Fife in June 2002 while Dr John Murray saw what may have been a lynx in Oxfordshire in July 2002.
John Murray and Mick Orsi have visited Di Francis and her Kellas Cats, Fred and Frieda. Allan Paul is the keeper of the Scottish Wildcats studbook and cares for several Scottish wildcats and hybrids. Ben Willis has a tame Bobcat.
- What proof is there that the cats exist?
Casts, photographs (although some of these are of dubious quality) etc. Examples can be viewed in the Photo Album.
Also a Puma was trapped in Inverness-shire in 1980 (she was christened Felicity and lived out her days at the Highland Wildlife Park).
Two leopard cats were killed in the Borders region.
Also 3 lynx were reported to have been killed in Inverness-shire as long ago as 1926.
The Scottish Big Cat Trust is compiling a list of authenticated cases of big cat escapes, captures and kills throughout the UK.
- What proof would be needed to convince people that big cats exist?
Photographs and physical evidence. However some individuals would not be convinced. The Scottish Big Cats team is using modern scientific methods to collect evidence.
Proving that non-native cats exist has been made more difficult as a result of recent attempts to fabricate evidence of big cats in Scotland/UK, which have damaged the reputation of big cat researchers as a whole.
The Scottish Big Cat Trust would be delighted to prove these cats exist, but wish to do so in a thorough, objective & scientific manner. We would not knowingly associate ourselves with any hoax.
- Are they dangerous?
Any animal is potentially dangerous - just look at the recent attacks on children by pet dogs. An animal like a puma would obviously have to be given a wide berth but in most cases the big cats feel the same way about humans and avoid them.
Cats are predators and as such are well equipped to cause injury to humans if they chose to do so. However, unless threatened, injured or trapped cats will generally seek to avoid humans. This is one of the reasons it has been so difficult to prove their existence!
There have been several alleged incidents where people have received non-life threatening injuries but in the cases we are aware of, in every instance it was the human who disturbed the animal which then ran off without continuing the attack.
These attacks have never been clearly attributed to cats. At least one such "attack" may have been a deliberate hoax. If so, this was very irresponsible as it caused great alarm amongst local residents.
- What do they eat?
Cats are adaptable hunters and there is a plentiful supply of wildlife in the countryside to keep a cat well fed.
The larger cats eat deer, hare, rabbits and game-birds. Smaller cats will eat mice, birds and even insects.
Very occasionally a cat will take livestock. Scotland has a plentiful supply of all these animals, which is one reason why it has become growing population centre for big cats.
- Are they breeding?
There have been reports of cats with young and of cats which appeared to be pregnant.
- What should someone do if they see a big cat?
Report it to us and, of course the police.
They should also try to obtain evidence such as pictures of paw prints (preferably with something to indicate the size - a £2 coin is perfect for this job). Plaster casts can also be made.
And, most importantly ON NO ACCOUNT APPROACH THE ANIMAL. Wait until it is gone before attempting to get evidence.
- Isn't Scotland too cold for big cats?
The puma can be found from the Andes to Canada. Scotland's weather is mild compared to what it can find in its native habitat.
As for the lynx, they were once native to Scotland and again, it is a cat which is found in some very harsh climates.
Leopards have survived the British weather quite happily in zoos and safari parks for many years.
- What are the authorities doing about them?
In January 2002, Richard Lochhead MSP for North East Scotland wrote to the Scottish Minister for the Environment and Rural Development concerning big cats. Ross Finnie MSP replied:
The Scottish Executive Environment & Rural Affairs Department is aware, from press reports, of the alleged sightings of big cats...
SEERAD does not maintain data on reported sightings....
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....
- Do you sell information to the press etc?
We are a charity not a business. Any material supplied by witnesses remains the copyright of those witnesses. If anyone wishes to use any material we will pass them onto the person who owns the copyright. We do not charge commission.
Donations to the charity are gratefully acknowledge and will be used for research and education.
- So, how are you funded?
We have no official funding. All of our research is paid for out of own pockets, from subscriptions, and from donations.
- Are you the only people doing this?
No, links to other reputable groups and researchers can be found on our web site.
- Where can got to I see big cats?
A number of zoos and wildlife parks have captive cats including lions, tigers, leopards, cheetah, lynx and wildcats.
Scottish Big Cat Trust, updated August 2003 Web: http://www.bigcats.org Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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