Report from Reuel Chisholm
A recent spate of sightings in the County Antrim area have lead the authorities to announce that there could be at least five big cats roaming the countryside in Northern Ireland at present. In the past couple of weeks sightings of a puma or lynx have increased together with evidence of livestock kills, including a half eaten calf (possibly stillborn) and a 70kg ram.
The interview; this is the best that I can remember (not heard replay of).
Intro Ð Ms McReynolds explained that while the recent big cat stories in NI were a fairly new occurence to Northern Ireland, a group of people in Scotland have been studying big cats in their country for quite a number of years and believe that the cats have been living and breeding with some success.
I covered the role of Scottish Big Cats in Scotland and how we are trying to carry out our studies on the cats as scientifically as possible. I talked (briefly;) on the various methods of acquiring DNA, and while the process of collecting samples sounded easy, the opposite was the case, as great care must be taken not to contaminate the source sample.
On the origin of these cats, the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act was obviously mentioned, but I added that this was not the only possibility to the cat's presence, some believing that the cats have been here for longer than 30 years; escapees from zoos, circuses, menageries, private animal collections etc, and some individuals as recently as the 1980-90s have come forward and admitted releasing cats into the British Countryside.
Also explained that while some may think it strange that the cats are apparently doing so well in the British environment, to the cats our countryside would appear like a paradise, a mild climate, plenty of food, and no competition from other large predators. Cats are one of the most adaptable creatures on the planet, one of the great survivors!
There also appears to be an increase in witness sightings which claim to have seen not one but two cats together (quite often a large cat accompanied by a smaller cat), which would suggest a mother with her cub, an indication that they are managing to breed in the wild.
What dangers do the cats pose?
Any animal with teeth and claws would pose some sort of threat to humans, as anyone who owns a cat, dog or gerbil will testify. But the cats don't really want any contact with us and prefer to avoid humans, and there has never been a confirmed big cat attack in the UK to suggest otherwise. What I did say was, 'I do not think that anyone should ever take matters into their own hands by trying to capture or shoot their own prize trophy, as an injured leopard or puma could turn into a disastrous situation.'
Susan McReynolds: If experiencing a potentially dangerous situation with a big cat, call the authorities?
RC: Most definitely!
She did not ask me anything about whether we had any conclusive proof as to whether the cats really do exist. People in Northern Ireland appear to have already accepted that the cats are there.
NB It is however possible to privately own exotic cats in Northern Ireland, as for some reason they do not fall under the UK law '1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act'!
BBC Radio Foyle, 22 nd August 2003
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