'So long as a creature is well established in the United Kingdom or Ireland, it can fairly be called British'
Duff Hart Davis
The name "Alien Big Cats" refers to the fact that exotic big cats such as lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars and cheetahs were never native to these islands. However, not all big cats can be classified as aliens - the lynx was once native to Scotland and in prehistoric times, sabre-toothed cats were found.
In 1976, the Government introduced the Dangerous Animals Act which made it illegal to keep any species of animal which might be considered dangerous - such as big cats - without a licence. This Act was intended to protect members of the public and the animals themselves. Unfortunately the initial result was the release into the countryside of a number of potentially dangerous animals by owners who did not wish to see their 'pets' put down.
In 1981 the Countryside and Wildlife Act was passed. This made it illegal to release into the wild in the United Kingdom any non-indigenous animal. However, the damage had been done in the intervening five years. Many of the exotic creatures seen today in the wild are thought to be descended from pets released in the 1970s.
Despite many alarmist reports in the tabloid press, most experts consider that Alien Big Cats would not menace humans under normal circumstances. However, a number of people do claim to have been attacked.
The majority of sightings in Scotland are of "black panthers" (generally melanistic leopards), pumas and lynx. Ocelots and jungle cats have also been sighted, while lions have been seen on Dartmoor and there was even a report of a tiger in Ayrshire in January 2000.
The public are probably most aware of the semi-mythical Beast of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, but there are a number of such creatures in Scotland. Over a thousand sightings of big cats have been reported to the police in Scotland, most of them clustered in the Highlands, Moray, Aberdeenshire, Fife, and Ayrshire. The most famous big cat was Felicity the puma who was captured at Cannich near Inverness in 1980 by Ted Noble. She was taken to the Highland Wildlife Park, where she remained until her death on 30 th January 1985. Felicity was stuffed and can still be seen at the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery.
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