Armande Piat: But you do have a rather unusual hobby?
Christina de Kéroualle: I used to be passionate about Fantasy Rôle Playing Games, but I believe you are referring to our research into non-native cats in Scotland?
AP: Indeed, are they not like the Beast of Gévaudan, or your own Monster of Loch Ness?
CdK: Not at all. We are talking about genuine flesh and blood animals not flights of fancy. While there are one or two rather weird individuals who also investigate UFOs, ghosts and yetis, the majority of researchers are normal, sane individuals, many of who have scientific training, or who have lived all their lives in the countryside and know the difference between a feral cat and a black leopard.
AP: You really believe there are black panthers in Britain?
CdK. Black leopards? Absolutely, and also pumas, lynx and smaller exotic cats. Very recently some hairs were found which were positively identified by two laboratories as coming from a member of the Panthera family, possibly a black leopard. Puma and lynx have been captured, while leopard cats and other smaller cats have been trapped and killed. There are not many around, but there are certainly a small number, and there is evidence that some of them have been breeding.
AP: Where do the big cats come from?
CdK: I think many people now accept that we have many exotic animals living and breeding in the British Countryside and the question is no longer "if" but which species and where they came from. Sightings have increased dramatically since the Dangerous Wild Animals Act was passed in the 1970s, prohibiting the keeping of animals such as leopards and pumas without a licence.
AP: So these cats have been released in the 1970s?
Probably the majority, but you should take into account the fact that pumas and leopards live up to 20 years in captivity, but less in the wild. Therefore, unless there have been continuing releases, the cats must have been breeding to maintain their population. Indeed we have evidence that this is the case.
However, releases in the 1970s is not the whole story as an examination of historical records reveals sightings dating back hundreds of years, e.g. three lynx were reported to be killed in Inverness hire in the 1920s. Many of the cats may have escaped from the travelling menageries that were common in the 18 th and 19 th centuries. Another theory is that there is a British Big Cat as yet unknown to science, but this has little hard evidence to back it up. However, it is not impossible that animals like the lynx, which are thought to have become extinct sometime after the first or second century AD, may have persisted much longer than believed, and perhaps into modern times.
AP: Are the cats dangerous?
CdK: Any strange animal can be dangerous. You only have to look at the tragic number of children that are attacked by dogs to realise that even so called pets can pose a danger. Certain species of cat pose more of a danger than others. Few would like to come face to face with a leopard, and even pumas have caused a number of fatalities in the USA and Canada, while at the opposite extreme I know of no cases of lynx attacking humans without provocation - even females can be pushed off their young, although they will attack dogs. All these dangers have to be made relative - bee and wasp stings can be fatal, and if we were really concerned about safety, we would ban cigarettes and motor cars tomorrow.
AP: Christina de Kéroualle, thank you.
CdK: Thank you.
© L'histoire, January 2004
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