Tuesday, 22 November 2016

2016 big cat update

It has been some years since I have updated this blog. News on big cats is now published first on Twitter then with maybe a follow up short article on the bigcatsinsussex.co.uk website, this blog has been sidelined as I haven't felt it necessary to elaborate on the bare bones of the case as it were. A lot has changed since 2012. For a start, reported sightings from witnesses to big cat activity have diminished from around 50 good ones annually to around 10 as of this year. By good ones I mean reports that have come in that could be construed as being part of a cluster of sightings at in a general area, in other words all describing roughly the same size and sort of big cat, and seen in a rough area depending on the whim of myself at the time. Each winter a cluster of sightings often develops in an area with the reports positioned less than 10 or 15 miles away from each other and to die off as the weather warms up at the beginning of the year. Up until 2012 there might be up to 3 or 4 clusters of winter or early spring sightings that had developed sometimes not uncovered until the following summer when a chance encounter with someone who "saw a big cat last winter" along a few other locals allows a picture of big cat history to develop. This year has seen around a dozen sightings with about the same last year and the year before that maybe a few more but still only fraction of say 2011 when there could be 2 or 3 sightings a week at peak times. It has been impossible to find any paw prints worth taking plaster casts of and nothing has been sent in. Despite swamping with trail cameras areas that had reputedly seen repeat returns of a cat on a regular basis nothing was achieved. There may of been any number of reasons why no photos were captured however it is certain that there is less big cat activity going on ergo there are less cats. In other words the population has slumped to 2 or 3 at best for the whole of the county including the border areas of the neighbouring counties of Hampshire, Surrey and Kent. There appears to be only 1 reason for this that is circumstantial on the one hand and compelling on the other and that is that big cats principal prey are rabbits and that the huge rabbit number crash since late 2012 has been the driving factor in the rapid decline of big cats. A particularly virulent strain of rabbit haemorrhagic disease or VHD spread rapidly through the ranks of the burgeoning rabbit population that was exploding prior to this in some places. IT has been alleged that the disease was spread by humans intentionally but animals like rabbits and mice naturally fluctuate in number depending on food resources and the crashes are often caused by disease that is helped to spread by overcrowding and kills more of the weaker and under fed. In the good old days pre-2012 it wasn't uncommon to see 50 to 100 rabbits just along one hedge, the field virtually bare ground where they have cropped the grass or crops so much they have killed it off. The hedge would be honeycombed with rabbit holes and collapsing in places due to the immense earth moving going on above ground. Nowadays the same buries hold maybe a couple of rabbits. True, there the odd pockets of rabbits about where there are still quite a few and these tend to be along sandy, well drained banks, are in scrubby places that are perfect for bush rabbits i.e. those that live mostly above ground and so avoiding the disease spreading, damp and claustrophobic tunnels and are often bordered by areas that have little to hold rabbits like river marshes or forestry blocks hence preventing disease spread. More follows...

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Big cat goes indoors of house in Seaford

 


Last sunday(5th feb.and previously posted on bigcatsinsussex.co.uk/news)a big cat went indoors of a house on the outskirts of Seaford and was confronted by the occupants who shooed it out,i am unsure of the exact details but since the story broke on Meridian tonight last sunday it has sparked great interest and also wonder at why such a usually retreating type of animal would do such a thing.I have a chain of linking evidence,some might fairly say merely coincidences,that may offer an explanation.

We will have to reel the clock back to the autumn of "09 and trip east along the coast a few miles to Peacehaven when a large sandy big cat crosses the path in front of a dog walker.Again,in the same field in november a black,slightly smaller but still large black cat was seen bearing in mind that sightings of big cats usually only describe the same sort of animal being in the same area,2 different ones is the exception.That winter i received mutliple reports from multiple witnesses of a big black cat and aslo a very big brown cat being seen along the coastal downland strip from Newhaven to Telscombe and further along to Saltdean often at night.The area of intense activity semmed to be centered arond the Telscombe area by early spring with possibly the most interesting ones describing the black cat coming out of the garden of one of the large houses in the area repeatedly and sometimes with some sort of food in it,s mouth.Intrigued,i met up with a friend who lived locally and was introduced to the householder.I was told that they had never seen a big cat but that every evening at dusk they put on quite a spread for the local foxes by supplying them with chicken legs and chunks of beef which they did every winter.Being elderly they retired to bed content in the knowledge they they were looking after their wild "pets".Were they in fact feeding a big cat or 2 without their knowledge and were the 2 big cats that were seen together actually mating?Some species of big cats such as leopards mate repeatedly over a period of time that the female is in season.Had the smaller black cat,the female,then gone on to give birth in probably march to a single cub,most likely in the dense scrub that lines the combes and deans of the area?

As spring progressed we were in the grip of one of the latest spring baby rabbit boom seasons i have ever known with litters not being born until late march and the local situation was magnified,as far as the predators were concerned by the rabbits being culled thoroughly due to formerly being in plague proportions.So we have a situation of a sudden halt of the local food supply being the rabbits,an end to the free grub in the form of chicken wings as it was now spring.Is it any wonder that lambs were being taken just about every day.I was receiving reports from a sheep farmer about lambs going and were eaten out in an unusual way."It,s not like foxes"he said to me"the carcases are too clean with none of the fleece being scattered about".I investigated and true to his word found a literal boneyard of lamb skeletons,sprinkled with the a badger and also a fox carcase in the dense thorn scrub that i had to get on my hands and knees to get into.As the picture above shows i found a few disused(obviously!)wartime bunkers with entrances mostly blocked.In the war the down tops were a host of anti-aircraft batteries,look out posts and various other buildings with some of the most strategic having bunkers and tunnels stretching far underground and remaining secret and some are lost to this day.At Newhaven fort down the road is a surviving examlple.Could a big cat have had a cub in one of these tunnels safe and sound?I was phoned by an Argus reporter at the time and i can remember telling her that i was a bit buzy that day to go with them but if they just went to Telscombe old village and asked around they would speak to several witnesses who had seen varios big cat activity which they did including a chap who had seen one on his shed roof.The story was in the paper the next day as blogged in bigcatdetective.blogspot.com "big cat fears over animal deaths".

Anyhow,by july the sheep kills had tailed off and my new trail camera had produced no big cat pictures however there was a sighting down the road just north of Piddenhoe by 2 people who had seen a largish cat around 16 to 18" tall,slim with a very long tail,being of a streaked golden colour similar to a serval cat they had seen in Africa one year.Experienced safarists they were adamant it wasn,t a domestic.Over the years when i have investigated possibilties of big cats that could of been breeding,like the situation here,there has sometimes been a sighting of a strange looking cat similar to this one and they are often described as servals,lynx but with long tails or whatever,the sightings would be of only a short period of time and never happen again in the same area.It could be that a cub that would of been born like this one would have a different,more camaflaged colour than the black or brown of it,s parents just like the leopards of this world and would then at around 6 months old change to the commonly seen black or brown.

By late august we have a larger black cat seen with a smaller black cat running down the side hill at Devils Dyke.The following winter of "10/"11 sightings in the former area of what i had worked out to be the Offham big cat in the previous couple of years changed from being of a lab sized black big cat to a black cat of around 18" tall.I had theorised that the Offham big cat had given birth to what i now called the Telscombe cat and had formed a habit of wandering through peoples gardens on occasion or at the very least being seen repeatedly in the countryside edgeing on to suburbia.Sightings were;near garden at Lewes (pics on website)november and december,Newhaven,Peacehaven again in december,also gardens in Saltdean,Woodingdean,Ovingdean,then a garden in Brighton by march in the Ditchling road area(as reported in the Argus)I found a cat-like paw print on the downs at Falmer(evidence page on website no.37)which match the paw prints found in the snow outside the house at Seaford this week and are only smaller by 3 or 4 mm Barcombe in april,may seen at the back of Ovingdean again this time likely to be coursing rabbits.All these sightings were of a 18" tall black cat with a very long tail nearly as long as it,s body differentiating it from a domestic.In high summer sightings of a cat fitting the same description were popping up on the downs at South Heighton and also Seaford golf course which backs on to the downland ridge which leads up to Firle,it seemed to be now spending protracted times in areas of high rabbit population away from human habitation but by august a witness contacted me to say of strange padding on her conservatory roof at Telscombe Tye,i followed it up and uncovered a couple of sightings in the area at the time and by the end of the month a, by now,20" tall black cat was seen going through gardens at dusk setting the local dogs off on the outskirts of the southern end of Lewes and also at nearby Kingston.

This winter sightings have been a little sparser however a large black cat was seen in a garden at Woodingdean last december and also back at the Seaford golf course area as well as the downs behind it,it,s typical for sightings of a big cat to decrease in it,s supposed second winter however it,s not usual at all for a big cat to be seen in peoples gardens so often in the same area(i had already mapped out the Offham cats territory to include these places and assumed it,s cub would be given a portion of it)in fact taking the county as a whole,sightings and evidence gathered in 2011 revealed big cat activity to of taken place in peoples gardens only very infrequently and not repeated much by the same cats.Not so here with the Telscombe big cat being seen regularly in peoples gardens.Could it have formed the habit early on in life by accompanying it,s mother to the house at Telscombe that forked out the chicken wings way back in the winter of 2010?If it is the same cat and i think it is, it would of learnt that food is freely on offer at these sort of places which would account for the above data.It may of been a step too far for it to actually go into someones house as it did at Seaford a s i,m sure it realised by it,s mistake but it might of been forced to by the onset of sub-zero temperatures that started the day before and are going on even now.I have already posted evidence that big cats find it harder to catch prey in times of hard weather.I doubt very much that such a usually shy creature as a big cat would repeat such a big mistake as going into a house,it has been reported before over the years in Sussex but has never happened again in the same area.That,s how wild animals learn about life sometimes,they nearly come a cropper,learn from it and don,t do it again......
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Monday, 6 February 2012

deer killed by fox not big cat at Woodchester

 
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Well that was a shame,the results from the DNA tests on the Woodchester(Glos.)deer carcases have come back with the most likely candidate being a fox.Not a trace of big cat DNA was found.Hats off though to our Gloucestshire colleages for having the guts to make public their intentions before the tests were even started,in this way the public were involved in the whole process from start to finish so gaining an insight into the processes albeit the many cul-de-sacs and dead endes that this big cat game produces.We live,we learn, as they say whoever "they" are.If the deer kids were killed by a big cat then peoples involvement along the way would of made people feel part of it.Still,it just goes to show just how hard it is to produce evidence of big cats and how that needs to backed up by other signifiers and not just be taken on it,s own.To be fair that hole in the neck is typical of some canid strikes and what it does show that foxes are a very resourceful predator,i did find a picture on the net of a supposed leopard kill of an antelope in Africa which had a large gaping wound on the side of it,s neck but this was the exception,generally speaking big cats such as leopards kill by throttling and this is the only deer killing method by big cats,whatever species they are,that i have come across here in Sussex.I was quite surprised to hear that a fox could pull down and kill a 35lb roe kid in fact i couldn,t see it happening at all until i remembered about fully grown in-lamb ewes being pulled down by supposedly packs of foxes up in Scotland during the very hard winters of the early 1960,s,mind you the hill foxes up there are a bit bigger than our ones.The trail camera pics i posted last month show a fox catching a squirrel,a very nippy customer indeed and various foxes have been known to specialise and become very expert in various predatory techniques,last year i watched a vixen bolt rabbits from buries for her 4 cubs on the downs near Lewes, a walk there the next day saw the team at the same caper again.It seems quite clear that the Woodchester carcases were the work of a rogue fox specialising in targeting roe young,most likely progressing up from the very young kids to the hefty,for a fox,35lb ones,foxes are well known to be the principle predator of 1 to 2 month old roe.A huge fox was shot last year weighing 28lb, a record i believe,not particularly fat just a massive animal but i don,t suspect such an animal was responsible for the deer killings,we will probably never know but it was more than likely just a normal fox which has specialised in taking down deer....

Big cats have been in Sussex for many years but it,s only since the late 1980,s that they have been encountered with any degree of frequency to give the impression that they are an established presence.Numbers of big cats have only until recently been able to of been quantified however they don,t seem to of increased much if at all in the last 5odd years,in addition to this the estimated home range of any one of these big cats does appear to be in the region of 6oo sq.km and their territory size doesn,t seem to of been reduced.There must be several factors involved in this such as the ever reducing size of hunting habitat due to development,disturbance of cover by increased recreational use leading to less prey numbers and suitable ground for themselves.A succession of hard winters may also be a reason nor can disease spread by the feral domestic cat population be ruled out however i am sure that the principal factor hindering the increase in the big cat population is down to foxes.Foxes are very numerous in most parts and have loose territories that they patrol vigorously hunting and foraging for what they can find,they are in direct competition for the same resources as big cats ,discounting deer(Woodchester deer kills aside)and can roam all of their area several times a week,they have to to prevent repeateed incursions from other foxes.When they have exhausted one supply they are highly adaptable and can change over to something else and even revert to eating earthworms which account for a very large proportion of the diet.Big cats on the other hand literally move in on differing fox territory visiting only a handful of times a year at best and the rabbits they are after,the fowl they are stalking,the voles they are poking for, etc.etc. has already been severely got at by the local foxes in all likelihood and made wise in the process.There are times of feast of course when there is enough for everyone such as the baby rabbit boom in early spring but it,s the times of famine,the hungry gap of febuary/march that dictate eventual numbers of big cats and this is when they can switch over and target,catch and kill their number one competition,the red fox...

In the autumn of 2010 i had been seeing a young roe doe with her first kid and they had a habit of lying up in the daytime amongst tall grasses right out in the open field,one october afternoon i saw a fox,not that big either,hassling the kid trying to have a go at it and very nearly did only for the doe to rush along to it stamping and kicking it,s hooves out forward,straight away the fox gave up and moved on.The young roe kid was still around the next day or 2 but after that dissapeared from the does side until a month later in november,the day before bonfire night,i found a small roe carcase,presumably the kid i had seen before with fox scat by it in the small copse next to the favoured roe lying up field.Presuming the doe had birthed in late may or june it would make it only around 3 months old but still at least twice the size of a fox.Strangely enough if i hadn,t seen the fox worrying the deer in the first place but then found the deer carcase i could of assumed that it might well of been the work of a big cat as one had been seen in the area at the time of death,the scat too was quite large for a fox but fox scat it certainly was.Well this was the largest roe that i had thought a fox would of been capable of pulling down until i simply Googled "fox kills deer"the other day and straight up came a report from New York state in America of a red fox killing a 35lb first year deer in someones garden.Not forgetting that American red foxes are the result of imports from England by hunting folk emigrating there a century or so back and so are of the same stock as our English ones this means that a red fox weighing around 12 to 15lb should be capable of ,in theory,actually killing a 35lb deer.News to me,but then they never cease to surprise me those most tenacious of beasts the fox......

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The way big cats hunt,catch,kill and eat deer in Sussex




The picture shows a fallow deer most likely hunted,caught and eaten by a big cat in the Ashdown forest in East Sussex.Note the fir tree on the left where evidence showed this was underneath where the big cat laid in wait for it,s victim.The leaves scuffed off the bank into the stream showed where the struggle was.It illustrates the ambush technique and the distances involved between where the big cat lied down and where the fallow would of been i.e.half way up or thereabouts of the stream bank......

Big cats target deer in Sussex primarily from july to middish febuary,mostly 1st year roe are taken,sometimes 1st year fallow calves,rarely 2nd year roe and fallow and never mature fallow bucks whose huge rack of antlers would present an unsurmountable obstacle to overcome i suppose added to their great size,they truly are magnificent beasts,too much even for the powerful big cats.Roe kids spend their first year with their dams and when travelling the does usually go first followed at sometimes a little distance by the kids,occasionally they feed seperately but more rarely travel seperately.Fallow are herd animals proper but are often split into various groups depending on age, sex and relations but again usually the elder ones and/or the parents go first when moving as opposed to feeding.I have never found or heard of a muntjac kid or adult being attributed to being the prey of a big cat here in Sussex,maybe their thick necks and tank-like gait negates this.They have greatly increased their range throughout the county in the past decade or 2 but are by no means common in all places,they are though the third most common deer in Sussex.Far less common are red deer and their are only small pockets of these huge animals about,mostly in the far north east of Sussex,they are well out of range for big cats.Not so big,in fact i would of thought that the hare-like and tiny Chinese water deer could be taken by big cats although there are even fewer of these around perhaps numbering less than a hundred,someone once mistook one at first glance for a wallaby in Mid-Sussex a while back and last but not least the red deer-like sika are apparently in East Sussex, i,ve never seen one but i,m told are in similar numbers as the water deer,i.e not many at all.As i,ve said already roe and fallow are the bread and butter for Sussex big cats.....

Big cats employ,to the best of my knowledge,3 main techniques to hunt deer that are ambush,stalking and coursing with the latter quite probably preceded by a "botched"stalk,it,is also highly likely that a big cat would actually come across a deer when it is pottering along the hedges and such like which is where the deer would be hiding up .The summer hunting consists of a degree of twilight stalking and i have several reports of big cats coursing deer at this time,very large big cats too which would suggest that it,s a tactic that has had a reasonable amount of success.So we have a big cat that is mooching in and out of cover gets wind of a deer or 2 either by scent,sight or sound then stalks then catches,if the stalk gets botched then it would give chase giving rise to witness reports of big cats coursing deer out of cover.Seeing as there are relatively fewer accounts of big cats stalking deer in these summer evenings it must be presumed that it most often goes on in the deep leaf laden cover of thick hedgerows or coppice type woods etc.Another reason why over manicured farms are not good for cats.Moonlit nights also offer good stalking oppurtunities and it,s thought that the finding one autumn a few years back near Lewes of a roe carcase in the middle of a stubble field was the result of an aborted stalk from the hedge with the roe fleeing into the field away from the cover that hid the cat and then followed a brief course with the cat catching it some 150 yards in the open,once into their stride though even a young roe should outstrip their feline pursuer,streamlined though they may be.There is no way that a big cat would spy it,s target in the distance and to then run it down cheetah-like,big cat versus deer courses have to be,in my mind,botched stalks or at the very least very close stalks then runs, a sort of cross between cheetah and leopard style.In other words the cat would of liked to of caught up with the deer easily to grab it,s throat but having been rumbled has decided to give chase knowing that this method has given it a degree of success in the past.I originally thought that accounts of big cats coursing deer through woods or whatever were young inexperienced cats trying their luck but evidence has shown in recent years that open ground chasing of deer has brought the cats that do this some success.....

Onto ambushing now as in winter the cover has all but gone from a lot of places which gave the cats the cover they needed to hide themselves which enabled the summer stalks and this is where most of the evidence comes from as to how big cats catch and feed,i,m not saying they don,t stalk in winter at all but when they do it,s mostly at night under cover of darkness.This technique is for obvious reasons practised also at night and in winter when the nights are longer as ambushing is very time hungry as far as the cats are concerned.Twilght is also shorter.The time of estimated death of ambushed deer has also been at night which completes this theory so far and also carcases have been found at dawn still wet and red.Anyway,we have a big cat emerging late into dusk in more often winter from it,s daytime lair such as dense scrub or woodland,anywhere undisturbed,it will then at some point perhaps in the early evening approach it,s ambush point which can be,like the picture, by a stream crossing,some cover by a deer path intersection in a wood,thick hedge bottom and will then lie in wait for it,s prey to show.Like i said virtually all carcases have been the younger ones so the cat would let the doe or elder one/s pass,likely sensing an animals size by hearing the difference between it,s hoof clatter perhaps then rushing up to the kid from it,s hiding place,attacking just to the side of the front,grabbing the underneath of the throat with it,s bottom jaw and so clamping the windpipe with it,s stronger,the lower one,jaw.This angle of attack occurs at just about every kill i,ve seen where i,ve been able to judge the,if any,ambush point,in other words 45degrees from the deers muzzle.As the deer came up the bank from the stream the big cat rushed out from under the fir tree at this angle to give it the optimum grip.Suffocation follows.Haemmoraging inside the neck merely points to the pressure involved, since bruising can only occur before death and wasn,t actually the cause of death.Simple lack of air was.The roe kid would scrape the ground with it,s hooves a bit but animals caught in this way are practically helpless and the big cat would only be straining against it,s weight a bit,this is shown by corresponding hoof and paw prints found at kill sites,personally i have never found evidence of momentous struggles between cat and deer .It would also appear by this evidence(the distance between cat print and front deer hooves(see evidence page on bigcatsinsussex.co.uk) that the cats keep themselves well away from the strangling deer unlike say leopards from documentarys who look very up close and personal,roe hooves are sharp and will cut quite badly .The same technique is carried out on fallow however with roe they are usually half carried around 15 yards away sometimes to more cover sometimes to seemingly nowhere in particular.Fallow,by their bigger size are just about always eaten where they were killed or at least within a yard or 2.

The now dead carcase is then opened up cleanly and precisely from the anus to the top of the rib cage,the colon,small and large intestines together with the paunch are taken out and often deposited a long distance away from the site,several 100 yards usually,as is the paunch.They could do this to put scavengers off the scent so they can eat without hassle.They will then presumably eat the offal first including the liver ,spleen,diaphram and heart is always gone as are the lungs,the ribs are eaten down nearly as far as the spine but usually not quite,the fillets are nibbled at and very occasionally shoulder meat is eaten as well as the muscle meat on the hind legs,strangely often the skin covering the belly is removed and carried off like the intestines but is sometimes eaten.The skeleton on a purely big cat consumed carcase should be whole and not separated.The overall appearance of the resulting leftover carcase is of a clean and slick operation as i,ve said many times before without the mess attributed to scavenger finds,it,s as if the body landed where it was found neatly butchered with barely no fur lying about,no blood,bile, nothing,at least this is what it,s like on fresh found bodys but as soon as foxes move in the chaos starts with roughly torn skin,jagged edges to bones,mess etc.etc.like the pic above.

In all about an estimated 15 to 20 lb of meat bone and offal is consumed,rarely 25lb and in one case of a fallow found in june 30+lb of flesh had gonebut it was thought in this case that a mother and cub were responsible.In the areas where a carcase is found in the presumed home range of the smaller big cats of around 22" at the shoulder(lab sized or bit bigger than a labrador)the lower end of sub 20lb is eaten but noticeably increases a bit in winter and where the massive 26" tall(alsation etc.sized cats)above 20 to 25lb is eaten.This is done by analysis of the estimated weight of the original complete deer carcase and digestive tracts minus the meat, bone etc. you get the picture.My previous estimation therefore of the mass the more commonly seen 22" tall big cats at around 50lb could well be a slight underestimate as a 50lb beast could not surely eat 20lb at one sitting,well my 45lb dogs can eat 15lb of meat if they get the chance to steal it and carnivores like wolves and big cats are used to eating one heck of a lot at a time then not for quite a while.Maybe the 22" cats weigh around 60lb.So,the 26"cats eating 25lb of flesh,ie.our fallow hunters should be weighing in excess of 80 lb but at 1/3 of it,s body weight in food maybe 90lb plus seems more accurate.Date compiled on wild tigers showed that they could eat 100lb of flesh at one sitting then fast for many days,at a rough estimation of their body weight say 500lb would give 1/5th of it,s body weight.If say 20lb of flesh had been consumed at 1/5th this would give the big cat in question a body weight of 100lb and this is at a height of 22" maybe 23" at best.This is massive by any degree and is not correlated by the more streamlined shape of British big cats as compared to their counterparts like African leopards.Of course,i have included each and every carcase and most have had less than 20lb eaten,Clearly,i have only scratched the surface here and more research needs to be done with accurate necropsy reports undertaken,preferably under recorded vetinarian supervision.I had always assummed that weight for weight British big cats are taller than leopards due to their visibly sleeker and lighter frames but their greater food consumption at one sitting may suggest other facts like they consume more at one sitting,this is a complex subject but i,m sure that once reasonably understood could give reasonable estimations of size of individual big cats guaged on how much they had consumed of a carcase,very interesting indeed i think.....

So much food from one kill is going to last a big cat quite a while and though it,s impossible to say that they haven,t snacked on smaller stuff in between ,in 2010 i found 2 carcases in neighbouring parishes(2 miles apart) with estimated times of death at being 5 to 6 days away from each other.The year before when snow was around kills were reported at the same place a week apart,week after week for many weeks which suggests that a major kill would last a cat from 5 to 7 days between meals.I know from experience that predators go on rolls,that is to say that they can exclusively target a certain prey item for extended periods using the same technique that has served them well,success breeds success so it,s by no means too much to theorise that a big cat would target deer week in week out until circumstances force it to change......


In writing this article i have compiled data from around a dozen most likely big cat deer kills found in Sussex that i have investigated over the years,i have ommited the info from plausible big cat kills from elsewhere in the country but realise that they may have slightly differing techniques to our Sussex cats.I have little 1st hand experience from elsewhere in the country....

Many thanks go to Andy at Westcountrydeerservices.co.uk for his estimations of flesh amounts eaten ......

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Gloucestershire deer carcase swabbed for big cat DNA

When this story broke there was much excitement here in Sussex among my colleages in the big cat world,not because that there was a deer carcase found in Gloucestershire that was thought to of been likely killed by a big cat as it,s too far away for any of us to relate it to our own research on our counties cats nor the fact that there were actually 2 found within walking distance,less than a handful of miles from each other which is not unheard of either.It was that the National Trust in their infinite wisdom had called in a scientist to DNA swab the carcase in order to find big cat DNA.For a large organisation to take an interest is one thing and to actually ,presumably ,finance the operation is another.A fair few deer carcases have been found in recent years in Sussex with a reasonable number of them thought to of been killed by a big cat,i have published a selection of some of them on bigcatsinsussex.co.uk and yet none have even undergone vetinarian analysis let alone DNA swabbing/testing.The reasons are really down to cost as we are self financed but also an over reliance by myself of on the spot self analysis with photographic evidence taking as well as additional witness verification.Personally i am not out to prove the existance of big cats to anybody,everyone is entitled to their opinions.I do not seek to gain evidence therefore of big cats being in the wild but evidence of their behaviour which is what i am interested in.Of course i would like to know exactly whether we have a pure bred leopard killing a deer,a sub-species, a hybrid or whatever but have gone down the hair sample analysis route.Swabbing of a carcase,as i understand it,involves the gathering of saliva left by the animal consuming the body and this wet substance being what it is prone to rapid decomposition hence the quick deteriation of the DNA.When a plausibly big cat deer kill is found the whole area is analysed to guage how the deer was initually caught then consumed.Other death factors must be eliminated before a big cat kill can be supposed like traffic then scavenged,wounded(by gun or other hazard)then scavenged,dog attack even,believe it or not,hoaxed.After looking at quite a few deer carcases over the years first impressions are usually spot on as the kill scenes have related factors common to all.

Getting back to the West country deer kills i don,t want to shout down and spoil the party but the pictures i,ve seen through the media don,t point straight away as being big cat killed.The puncture wound for a start is something i just don,t come across,every big cat attributed deer kill has been aphyxiated not punctured by canine teeth(dogs can puncture necks though some do throttle too)there is a clear drag line from where presumably the deer was caught then consumed marked by bits of fur,foxes pull at a carcase to tear off flesh dragging it in the process.British big cats will lift up a deer by the neck once dead and effectively carry it a short way to consume it,usually to cover.A classic,uncontaminated big cat deer kill has the appearance of landing where it is having been neatly butchered.Lastly the whole carcase looks too messy,the bones edges are too jagged as is the fur line though the intestines are gone and a similar amount of flesh has gone the way a big cat would feed usually feed.Of course it could be a cat kill and foxes have moved in shortly afterwards i don,t know,it could be a feral dog kill,it could even be a young puma kill,all i have to go one are a couple of pictures and not even the 50 or so that i would of liked to look at.I haven,t examined the deer,others have like the esteemed big cat book author Rick minter and they thought it worthwhile to call in the scientific artillery and have it swabbed.It,s easy for me to sit here 150 miles away and say this and that when the only real way is to be there myself,put on the gloves and get messy,filming the whole process,taking pictures.


UPDATE;I have now seen pictures (kindly sent by Rick Minter)of when the carcase was far fresher and they do give the impression of being a big cat kill for the reasons as explained above ie.clean cut,no messy drag line etc.It is also quite clear that the deer carcase in question is that of a 1st year roe(kid) and most roe deer kills attributed to big cats are of kids.Unfortunately the ones available in the mainstream media were of a carcase several days old and scavengers had indeed got at it.....


The lab results should be publically available for view within a fortnight,half the country waits with baited breath.........


Big Cat May Be On The Loose In Gloucestershire After Mutilated Deer Discovery | UK News | Sky News http://news.sky.com/home/uk-news/article/16147397.html



http://uk.news.yahoo.com/deer-carcass-sparks-big-cat-inquiry-152424817.html

Sunday, 1 January 2012

MOD & Police big cat body cover up/conspiracy theory

Rick Minters new big cat book "Big cats:facing Britains wild predators" has opened an old wound so to speak of a MOD cover up of important big cat evidence with mention of the big cat carcase seen taken into the RAF Fylingdales base in Yorkshire way back in 2004.I can,t remember which big cat researcher first broke the story then but i do remember the conspiracy theories that the story added weight to.Simply put,a carcase of a big cat was seen on the main road that goes past the base presumably hit by a car.The security guards at the gate called for a digger which took the body into the base and since then past employees have stated that the big cat carcase is being held there.This may or may not be true,i don,t know but i would of thought that if there was a carcase it would of been better for it scientifically to be transported to Porton Down in Wiltshire where the appropiate facilities would be available for any scientific analysis let alone proper (freezer)storage facilities.I realise that all major military bases have freezer capacity to store bodies in the case of say a terrorist strike or similar but it wouldn,t be the place to store the much sought after body of a big cat,in any case RAF Fylingdales is an extremely small base perched on the north Yorkshire moors engaging in space surveilance with a very small staff of highly specialised technical personal numbering around 80 backed up by a small civilian contingent such as cleaners,cooks etc and i don,t expect for one second that there is scope for animal research or any storage facilities there,the base used to be famous for the golfball shaped radar stations towering over the moor that are no longer there and the Google maps show a small research station coupled with the housing residences for staff,some from America as the satellite tracking info is shared with the USA.In a case such as this Porton Down or any of the murky private animal research labs would be Britains answer to Roswell not a small RAF base such as this.There are a multitude of private labs dotted around the country equipped to deal with any proposed big cat carcases but the many university research labs would ,i imagine be firmly kept out of the loop for they would be open to breaches of confidentiality quite easily.

In 2007 i teamed up briefly on a wildlife survey for a mammal study group with an extremely talented bio-chemist on board who had worked for some years at the research facilities at Porton Down,over a series of drinks one night which made him temporarily forget his signing of the Official Secrets Act,necessary for all government employees engaged in top secret activities and legally binding,he mentioned in some detail the fuss caused on the rare occasion when a big cat carcase was brought in to the department next to where he was working.His work capacity was to test the internal fluid contents such as blood,bile etc.The dates i was not told nor where the carcases came from apart from one which was called a Moor cat in his departement-speak,presumably being brought off one of the West country moors like Dartmoor.They were though variable enough in type and colour to be differentiated between each other.He backed up my ideas that the large cats seen all over the country were a sub-species of leopard and even went on to expand that there were 3 or 4 different types,whether or not i was being fed a pack of lies washed down with a lot of scotch is open to question however I might add to the broth that Porton Down has been involved in highly top secret affairs and is reputed to research into various diseases like rabies and anthrax having large and state of the art research facilities covering animal and bio-chemical study areas amongst others and is extremely secure with armed guards posted and no open media or public access whatsoever so impossible to verify any rumours of big cat bodies being kept there.The site is massive,consisting of as much underground as there is up top, at over 7000 acres is the size of a small town and so secretive that no single government department has complete knowledge of what goes on there,a lot of the multitude of various military and civil research departments are only interlinked with others in their immediate study areas.Porton Down being the prime candidate for holding any big cat carcases jumps to the top of the list when it is realised that in 1996 ufologist Tony Dodd speculated that alien bodies allegedly found at the site of a ufo crash in the Beryn mountains in Wales had been taken to Porton Down,the sheer impossibilty of access to the site to prove or disprove the theory only accelerated the conspiracy theories.If there ever was a big cat carcase that needed to be safely tucked away from prying eyes then there could be no safer place than this one,however in the past various big cats have been caught like Felicity the puma and a lynx in London,the latter of which ended up at the Natural History musuem i understand,these never were kept secret so why should one from Yorkshire be?As the majority of police forces recognise the existance of big cats in the wild any cover ups must be the result of knee jerk decisions taken at the time of events happening rather than overall national policy.The plot thickens.

Here in Sussex we have had our own cover-ups the most famous of which was when armed police were called to the sighting of a very large panther size black cat seen in bushes at the playing fields in Peacehaven just off the Tye.This was in the autumn of 2003 if i remember and the whole area was sealed off with the police helecopter hovering above,a team of armed to the teeth police officers scouring the area and another team as back up along the track in a van.Apparently the original witness had called the local police who on seeing the cat for themselves called for back up.On being questioned as to what the drama was about the police told they were after an escaped criminal!I have 3 witness statements that mention a large black cat being seen there as well as one from a council employee and was asked at the time to "keep quiet" to prevent public panic.To be honest i would of thought that an escaped criminal nutter would be more to be afraid of than a wild cat large as it may be.In fact there were and still are regular big cat sightings in the Telscombe and Peacehaven area but none since have caused such a government departemental panic.Actually,these days the police are more often seeking the help and intellectial input of big cat researchers such as myself and others up and down the country to clear up cases where damage to livestock or property for example may be the work of a big cat or some enterprising vandal or miscreant.The police sometimes receive calls from distressed members of the public who have seen a big cat for the first time and worry for the safety of themselves and children and so the police can be glad to put them in touch with someone who is used to dealing with the aftermath of a big cat sighting in all it,s forms.These days we as "big cat people" are treated as some kind of agency to be called upon at times of need and are usually glad to be of service in allaying peoples fears,this in turn frees up valuable police time to be spent on more pressing cases..

As for the conspiracy theory of bodies of big cats being swept up off the countries roads and whisked to shady government labs like Porton Down and others does sound a little far fetched at first,for a start the council employees charged with road kill picking up duties would have to be briefed and having worked at this capacity myself once i never heard of this being mentioned,i did once though hear of a very large cat being found squashed only to hear it had been unceremoniously put in a black plastic sack and sent off to the incinerator with the other bodies of wildlife and pets falling victim to traffic as contrary to often held opinion council workers can be hard pressed and over worked.However if any bodies of big cats were to be found reaching their way to say Porton Down by one way or another then it would normally be kept quiet as we,the British public,are undeniably kept as mushrooms by the state,in the dark and fed on s*@t,which is the principal reason why any conspiracy theory would materialise.We have the media to keep us informed on the goings on that might interest us and i use the term media in it,s loosest possible form to include as in this case book authors,bloggers,tweeters,big cat researchers etc......

Watch these spaces!





www.darlingtonandstocktontimes.co.uk/news/9444103.MoD_dismisses_big_cat_cover_up_claims


BIG CATS IN BRITAIN: MoD dismisses big cat cover up claims

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Territory size of a Sussex big cat/600+ square km



26 sightings this year in 21 parishes add more weight to gaining more of an understanding of the yearly range of a typical big cat in Sussex.I say typical because it is really a study of a large part of West Sussex in particular 4 big cats 1 of which is far larger than the others and has several defining features that set it apart from the others ,this has made it possible that when a sighting comes in i can usually differentiate this cat from it,s nearest neighbours,added to this i work on the farm where this cat has been very active at times and know all the surrounding country fairly intimately.In this way when sightings come in they are plotted on a map together with the habits observed by the witnesses.Big cats act differently to each other in their behavior,for example when seen one might slink away while another typicaly looks at it,s observer then runs hell for leather away to cover.Carcases found too have similarities and differences depending on which cat has killed it so a pattern starts to emerge on where which cat is at certain times of the year and what it is feeding on,paw prints too ,whilst they are found far less frequently,are as distinctive apart as human fingerprints.Colour wise all these 4 cats are black but the shapes of their bodies can be described differently however it must be remembered that body shape of a cat changes depending on what it,s up to.A friend who lives not too far away has photographed this big cat the results of which i have published on bigcatsinsussex.co.uk and has been now used in the recent,highly acclaimed big cat book by Rick Minter,in other words people from up and down the country have looked at the picture and thought it to be the genuine article.So,we have had the best chance for years to guage the territory size of this,one the countys biggest big cats.....

A lot of the data already gathered has been published for public perusal here on these blogs but also on the website with the exception of sensitive material and sightings evidence that is location private for one reason or another like the farmer concerned wanted his place kept out of it.I have attempted to analyse this data as thoroughly as i can to produce a series of findings which can be repeated elsewhere dependant on habitat type and prey numbers.What is quite clear is that the findings so far confirm some previous data inputs and surprise or turn on their head others.

To start with as a general rule of thumb a big cat will be seen in an area of a clump of parishes once at a certain time of year then maybe again very often a month later then possibly,if the hunting is good,a couple of months after that or instead may visit several months later.This has been noticed over the years.In other words it will only either actively hunt or pass through 2 or 3 times a year but usually in the same seasons.This has been observed by myself and others on countless occasions to be now almost a rule of thumb.Big cats are not scavengers but hunters and to survive can only predate loosely in any given area before their prey gets wise,coupled with this they have competition with others like foxes who share at times similar hunting techniques and prey like rabbits and foxes are often well established in the areas that a big cat may be in.As regards to deer they are usually the younger ones taken,first year fawns,not the adult roe and so there,s a limited number of these taken.So we can see here at a glance that a big cat would need a much more vast and varied habitat than it,s most similar rival a fox.

With every rule of thumb in nature there is an exception and our principal cat of study shares this with the others in that it has an area/s where it,s seen far more regularly than in other places.It has areas that are the edge of it,s range and on reaching these it is forced to turn in for geographical reasons.For our cat it,s the major coastal,downland towns and it,s here that it,s seen more regularly in fact 12 of these clumps of sightings where it,s been seen this year have been at these places but i feel it,s a mistake to regard them as a pattern that is repeated elsewhere but the data has just not come in,in other words big cats in Sussex are repeatedly being seen at turning points of their range whereas at other points they are habitually seen/frequent much less.A breakdown of these turning points have seen the cat hug the coastal downs for it to then turn inland and head for the general Weald area.The downs as a whole is mostly open,as the photo above shows,but has pockets and in some places has clumps of cover like scrub extending into very extensive woods,it has been noted to hunt successfully on certain parts of the downs but spends a larger proportion of it,s time on the Weald where prey numbers and hunting cover are extremely higher.What has been noted especially this year is the effect that land clearance and the resultant stock fencing has on a big cats ability to hunt.The recent leap in lamb and beef as well as corn prices has made farming a little more worthwhile were it not for the corresponding jump in compound,fuel and other costs and it,s had the effect of a new type of enclosure of the land.Stock fencing put up to accommodate the countys increasing number of sheep and cows,in particular wire topped sheep netting against closely trimmed hedges makes for poor cat hunting places as does the recent fad of large enclosures of deer fenced ground commonly called by it,s misnomer of rewilding.It,s a fact that Sussex is a lot less wild than it was say even 5 years ago,farms have had to make more use of the same amount of ground just to keep going and this has had the knock on effect of pushing off the Sussex big cats from ground they previously frequented.Cut down or even just reduce the width of a hedge,add a stock fence and you have removed deer habitat, greatly restricted their movements and in turn their predator the big cat will visit somewhere else.

So,to the square size of our big cats range or at least to what is known for the months of december and january the data is very thin to say the least but it,s thought it heads north to the Wealden sandstone ridge where the denser forest hides it from observation.I said in the previous post on spring movements that it,s range extends to around 140 sq.km however there was around 12 days of the month where it wasn,t being accounted for,this year however fresh info has come in which rather reaffirms what was previously thought but couldn,t be confirmed in that it did indeed range a lot further west than stated and most likely a fair bit further north east which makes it 18 kilometres north to south and 26 km east to west making this around 468 sq.km.This area has now been confirmed by exhaustive analysis of fresh info coming in this year and if we couple this with the highly likely deep winter supposed range in the far north we have a figure of 638 sq.km.This is huge,far bigger than previously thought and i must admit i,ve gone over everything so many times to check but i keep getting the same results.I realise that anyone reading this will confer and compare these results to range sizes of big cats like leopards on foreign soils who can move around in areas a quarter of this size but it must be remembered that Sussex is heavily populated with large and small towns peppering the country and fracturing suitable cat habitat.Large house building programmes have gone up on the edges of nearly every urban area reducing former farmland in Sussex by several thousand acres every year.

Although these results have not been conducted with the radio collaring that backs up results found abroad by the various big cat groups and i rue the day that this would ever happen over here,we are superbly set up in this country in having a vast amount of witness data to analyse that is completely absent from,say,Ingwe in Africa which a far lower human population.It is open to sceptism quite rightly in that no genetic analysis has taken place and that too much emphasis is on witness reports and carcase investigation and not enough on spoor but that is just the way it is.In fact this area size does concur with similar sizes that the other big cats from across Sussex would have given the number that it is thought are here(at least 12 no more than 18) and this territory size is necessary given the prey needed to keep them going throughout the year.In fact if we take a 600 odd square km block it does fit in very nicely with the other cats areas.It does all seem to fit.These results cannot though be compared to other areas of the country i think as Sussex has a peculiar range of habitat and soils that restrict or enhance big cat movements depending on the type of season but i,m sure that it,s relatively typical in the large amount of ground needed by our apex predators the big cats.....