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 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 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 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 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.....

Monday, 21 November 2011

Closet yet big cat sighting in West Sussex/pictures

The above 2 photos of a big cat in West Sussex( copyright Carol Cowley all rights reserved)taken by Carol Cowley at a sighting recently have stirred up controversy amongst the big cat research world.Inherant sceptism is a necessary trait in this game with each separate shred of evidence subject to intense scrutiny.I am the first to admit that the first picture has some of the appearances of being a dog were it not for the fact that the tail length obviously belongs to no known canine breed,the ears too are exactly the shape quoted by most of the big cat sighting witnesses in being more rounded than pointed.The hang of the right paw also looks a bit cat like to me.All this being said,if i was presented with these pictures and didn,t know the history behind this ongoing investigation conducted by Carol Cowley and myself and took them as being the sole piece of evidence i too would err on the side of caution and might be tempted to proclaim them as being photos of a dog,albeit a strange one at that and i might also explain the cat-like features as being mere tricks of the light and not the real deal so to speak.

In fact,any evidence cannot be looked at in isolation, think,but has to be part of a whole series of different perspectives on other things too like was the sighting/photo in an area where big cat activity has taken place?15 sightings from multiple witnesses this year alone.This cat in fact has been studied intensely over the last 3 years and probably a lot more if it,s as old as we think it is.Was it doing what would of been expected of it?A handful of occasions were when the cat was not disturbed immediatly and was observed doing just this thing that is just poking and possibly sniffing about which is what cats do.Was there any other evidence?Well,not on this occasion but on others and at nearby locations paw prints,deer,fox,badger and bird carcases attributed as big cat kills were found and out of the deer, fallow carcases which can only be pulled down by a very big cat,all this has been published on these blogs and the website.A final question would be on the integrity of the witness,in other words was it a hoax?Carol Cowley has produced several pictures now of this big cat all taken with her little compact camera one of which especially has been published in a forthcoming book on big cats by the acclaimed West Country based author Rick Minter and has been verified as being a photo of a big cat by various other researchers up and down the country.Her other work has produced the only deer carcase attributed to a big cat this year as well as investigating numerous sightings and uncovering information of immense value to gleaning knowledge of big cat behaviour.

Here i have offered a little background material to back up these pictures for public scrutiny however it,s not my intention to convince anyone of whether these pictures are genuine or for that matter any other big cat pics nor any other evidence produced.Everyone is entitled to their opinion.If anything,all material is published for public information only though it has to be said the agenda is to prove how essential big cats are to the natural balance of things and seek only to avoid conflict with humans.Scrutiny is valued however to offset home-spun conclusions which can spin off onto tangents too wild to be even plausible.So,given what i,ve mentioned here the above pics appear to me to be very much the real deal,taken obviously,not in isolation.....

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Black fur found at deer kill site

When no evidence is evidence?

One of the delights in life is to got to pastures new,have a look around at what,s not been looked at before,at least by oneself and with every turn of gaze something of interest beckons to be studied with eyes glimmering with expectation.Not on this occasion though for a different yearning gripped,a desire to check out a place where a spectacularly "strange" event had taken place some 9 months previously to see if any new trace of something could be gleaned,if not then this could mean possible confirmation of previous theories.Let me explain.
Last autumn was notable for a glut in deer carcase finds that were attributed to big cat kills,4 in 3 weeks,5 in total.One in particular stood out as being the finest example i,ve ever come across a first year roe neatly eaten with no mess like fur or blood scattered and in an area of high big cat activity,a picture of it is on the evidence page of spot where the deer was caught was clear with neck fur found and scraping of the hooves as it aphyxiated in the cats grip,then marks in the ground visible where it was dragged for 15ft over a small stream to be consumed that night last november.Checking out the nearby barbed wire fence i retrieved a decent clump of 1 & 1/2 inch long soft,black fur.A trail camera was set up but showed only the usual foxes,badgers,tame black cat and a few weeks later a return of the roe deer.The tame black cat however was short haired of a length of 3/4 inch i might add.
Anyhow,sending off a portion of the fur found to be examined by the eminent Dr.Legg of the Booth museum in Brighton the results came back as belonging to the domestic cat variety,so no leopard involved in the roe deer murder mystery we should concur.Not to be outdone i also e-mailed a photo of the carcase to a big cat study group in Africa who replied "definitely eaten and probably killed by a big cat,most likely a leopard" they replied "where did you find it?" to my answer of in Sussex i received no further comment.In fact,i didn,t actually find the carcase myself but got to it a little after the fact and coincidentely the daughter of the landowners is actually involved with a camera safari group in South Africa and originally thought of a big cats involvement with the kill but i digress.
Well ,enough of the history of this case and more on the news,for a start there has been no further sightings in the immediate area,i checked the fence again bearing in mind that this is now 9 months down the line and not a single strand of black fur was found despite going to the lengths of examing each and every barb with my trusty magnifying glass remembering that last year 2 different barbs had this long fur on them indicating at least 2 passes by whatever animal had left it with the large amount of left indicating also multiple passes.Apparently the local tame cats are still active around the place.So,getting to the point the fence at 18" is too high for a domestic cat to shed fur on it,this is indicated by none left on it and the height of said cats to be 12" high at the shoulder.
The facts as we have them:something big and silent had killed,dragged and ate that deer in a big cat-like way.Something left it,s fur on the fence which was longer than the tame cats present.Something had to be big enough for it,s body to scrape an 18"high fence and that something made multiple passes.That something had a domestic cat ancestry as prooved.It seems to me that that something had made multiple passes under the fence before it succeeded in it,s quest for prey that much seems likely but the most intriguing thing about this conflicting evidence is the domestic cat results,this has happened to me before and i suppose i,m meant to be disapointed that it wasn,t a leopard but i,m not.My quest is to uncover the truth by discovering and examining the evidence however conflicting that may seem and not to pigeon- hole theories to slot in where they could be expected to go.It would be expected that for a cat to be large enough to pull down an animal the size of a young roe deer(about 70lb) it should be at least of leopard size and ancestry.In fact,bizarrely enough i have a multiple witness report given to me from a much respected big cat researcher from the West Country which states that they saw a very large,alsation sized big black cat close up and mentioned that the eyes had slits,we all know that tame cats eyes retreat to slits like foxes whereas leopards go to dots like dogs........

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Sheep are not eaten by big cats in Sussex

The Sussex big cats do not target either sheep or lambs.This statement has provoked much debate among the local big cat researchers and it,s fair to say i,ve had to defend these words quite vigorously.The principal point against these facts is that out of a commercial flock of say 6000 breeding ewes that would produce say around 11000 lambs,would,say,the sheperd/ess miss a few that were taken overnight with no trace and strat worrying what happened to them or would the sheer numbers involved mean that in all likelihood a dozen here or half a dozen there not be noticed at all.
Modern sheep farming in Sussex is a highly mobile operation with in reality all flocks are actually split up into hundreds of ewes spaced out wherever the lambing fields are with the stockmen actually doing rounds of many of these fields in a single day.Many rent the grazing and only put what each field or group of fields can handle.This means that they are more easily kept an eye on and believe it or not anything amiss is usually noted promptly.Fencelines are quad biked along as are bramble or scrub patches looking for fleece either stuck in the wire or on thorns that would be a telltale sign of predator attack.
Foxes do take lambs on occasion as do badgers however fox kills are easily noticed as they tend to go for orphaned or triplet new borns not yet acquanted with their surrogate ewes or the ones caught up in the said fences or brambles.In "08 i think it was we had a 2" fall of snow in april around lambing time on the downs and the resulting wind blown drifts "drowned" 50 or so new borns,the quick thaw revealed that the local foxes got wind of these easy meals with themselves cubs to feed and then went on to have a go at the lambs as they got a little older which is unusual as often foxes just go for the afterbirth.Foxes tend to drag a carcase a short way while they are eating it and the evidence of their kills is easy to notice as much fleece is lying around and the site tends to be messy.The messiest are the badgers though and these have the strentgh to drag the lambs into deep cover often squeezing then through the sheep netting.All the shepherds i know or have spoken to would notice any of these goings on and it would appear by what i,ve been told so far that lambs taken by either foxes or badgers would be well down on previous years with only a couple reporting any problems and neither of these involve big cats.At the South of England show next weeks i,ll have a chance to chat to a few others and find out more.In fact, like deer,lamb carcases are never carried very far away.Take the Telscombe lamb kills saga from last year where a big cat definitely had been killing the lambs,every carcase was found in the surrounding scrub and was consumed there,the bodys didn,t just mysteriously vanish and all were immediately noticed by the farmer.Even up to the 20 kilo lambs which are a heavy load for the bit bigger than a labrador big cat that was seen amongst the sheep at night with lamps to carry over the fences and it appeared that it had copied the badgers in pulling the bodies through the netting.I had never seen anything like it before which made the exception rather than the rule.
So,would a few lambs missing not be noticed occasionally by a particularly hard pressed farmer?Well,maybe for a short while in the uplands up north where say black faced sheep drop their young without much problem and little help from the sheperd but here too from what i,ve been told they are very much on the ball as their foxes really do take lambs on a regular basis but here in the more sheltered south the favoured meaty crosses can sometimes struggle to give birth and all available hands will be on deck to help.Every ewe is tagged and the numbers of lambs noted,this is rudimentary stockmanship to guage which are the best breeders and when they are moved off the lambing fields any and exact shortfall of numbers will be noticed.I checked this out last year with sheperds and found out that as usual all casualties were accounted for,of course i can,t speak to everyone but if anyone knows any different then please tell me?
In addition to this any flock that is continually harrased either at night or by day is extremely noticeable by their owner who will find out the cause pronto,it just so happens that like foxes big cats suss out potentially new hunting oppurtunities well before they go in for the kill so to speak and will be seen in the fields amongst the sheep at night before any lambing takes place,this so rarely happens i can count the occasions happening on one hand.
It is my opinion, weighted by all the available evidence,that on the very rare occasion for lambs to be taken by a big cat that firstly the evidence is plain to see and only when it has cubs to feed and for some reason the natural food like the rabbits has been denuded.There is no evidence to the contrary,if there was then i think i would be the first to say it.A healthy scepticism and constant questioning of the facts helps us all understand big cat behaviour that much better and to analyse what we know or think we know already but there is drawing the line between supposition and fact by examining the evidence.It is often supposed that a sheep carcase is found by a member of the public and just because a big cat has been seen in the area 1 and 1 makes 5 in that the conclusion will be that a big cat has killed the said sheep,it then gets reported to the press and supposition becomes fact overnight without any analysis of the carcase,investigation of the scene or any of the photos,if any,made available for public scrutiny.When on the odd occasion it does happen for real it all gets blown out of proportion.
Looking for evidence of big cats being anywhere beyond the usual witness statements is extremely difficult and very trying on the patience as very little if any is found when we know full well a big cat has been very active in an area,it can be tempting when looking for clues to jump to conclusions in our haste for some sort of evidence but looking around sheep fields for sheep carcases will only prove in the long run ,i,m sure,that the title of this piece is the normal current of affairs........

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Sussex big cats do prey on badgers

The evidence that Sussex big cats prey on badgers is stacking up.Firstly,the young badger skull found in march was at a sighting of a big cat seen going up a tree at night.The witness stated that he heard a terrific racket like several cats fighting and,worried about his own cat being outside,went out armed with a lamp shining it around the field to see a very large black,alsation sized cat running away towards the nearby wood and go up one of the trees.

Last year while investigating the Telscombe sheep kills a partly eaten badger carcase was reported to me by the farmer,cause of death unknown,however there was intense big cat activity going on there at the time,this shouldn,t be a victim of circumstance i know but it,s still interesting nonetheless.

A few years previously further east in the county a witness had heard a terrific screaming noise she described as like a cat fight only louder,deeper and more violent sounding,the next morning a badger carcase was found in the garden partially eaten.

I have never heard a badger make more of a sound than the pig-like grunting noises it makes when rooting about for food however i remember from somewhere that they can make a terrible ,blood curdling screaming sound that sounds like "6 cats fighting together" although i would of thought that if a big cat was taking down a badger the throat grip that they prefer would of stifled any screams,not so it seems.

In the past year of wildlife surveys and trail camera set ups in areas of intense big cat activity a distinct lack of,especially young,badgers has been noted and this is contrary to observers in other areas who have noted no notable decline in their local badger populations.

Anyhow,i contacted Johnathen Mc.Gowen from all the way over in Dorset(see his very informative website here ) to see if he had come across any evidence of big cats preying on badgers down in his neck of the woods and he replied "I very rarely find any evidence of large cats eating badgers but... my first sighting was of a puma stalking a 6 month old badger cub.... i have seen several photos of cat eaten badger carcasses and found remains of such in my study areas... along with several eyewitness accounts from people who have seen (big)cats killing badgers...I think that they prefer deer,rabbits then foxes and lastly badgers."This was very valuable information from Johnathen Mc.Gowen as Dorset is around a 100 miles away and shows that badgers as prey in Sussex could not be just a purely local phenonemon.

Well,i haven,t seen a badger carcase myself yet that could be attributed to a big cat kill like i have with deer and fox carcases but things do certainly seem to be fitting together even the fact that i found the skull in march which is the "hungry gap"time of year for big cats in Sussex.Without a body there is no murder but i found a skull so it,s a start to be going along with,a carcase is the best evidence but i must admit that i,m still very surprised that badgers fall prey to anything seeing as how tough they are.Keeping an open mind is the best way to explore new (to me) possibilities........

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Is this the tail tip of a big cat?

When i first checked these pictures way back in febuary the cam had been triggered by something out of shot.The field of view of trail cameras is very narrow and this isn,t unusual,noticing this black streak at the bottom of the (second)picture i thought it may of been a smudge on the lens,again not unusual however a few weeks later i found a badger skull and then clawmarks up a tree(already blogged.Then,2 further sightings one of which the same night and 3 fields away certainly increased the odds of this tail tip belonging to a big cat.The angle is right as big cats do either carry their tail in a slight curve like this or more of a S shape.Chats to fellow big cat researchers revealed that they could see the possibilities as well.As researchers we are a naturally sceptical breed but this is a necessary trait to eliminate all other possibilities in order to confer that something is evidence of a big cat.When flicking the picture to and throw with the second one some sort or black shape is there but it is of course possible that the tail tip belongs to a black feral cat but scaled with a foxes brush would appear to show that it is around 2 " thick bringing it into the big cat bracket.A big cat was due to show up around this time as it had for several seasons but sods law meant i ignored this picture until the other evidence came to light and i had already shifted the cam to somewhere else.Oh well,there is always next year.........

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Sussex big cats and the effect of light levels

Sussex big cats are well positioned as regards to hunting,most have the chalky South downs in part of their home range together with the hinterland north of these hills with it,s mixed woods and coppices.2 separate big cats would appear to be utilising the higher light levels on the downs at night when the moon is low in the sky,small or not out at all. Big cats are mostly low level light hunters,as a general rule they will emerge from their lying up cover like impenetrable (to us)scrub some way through dusk depending on the state of the moon,seasons and weather sometimes on a moonlit night as late as when the woodcock flight or in our terms when the light has dropped so we can,t make out the bark on an oak tree at 100 paces.They will then gear up to hunt through the twilight(crepuscular) and on into the night (nocturnal) sometimes carrying on through to dawn.Their hunting success would certainly appear to be determined by the light levels available as cats need a certain amount of light to see by and also where they have positioned themselves in any given hunting area,thier prey on the other hand like deer and rabbits once the light at dusk has dropped to a certain level are unable to see very well in fact us humans have better low light vision than them and they move around using senses of smell and hearing as well as memory of the places that they are. When the moon rises early in the night and there is no cloud or is thin white cloud then this will give good light to hunt by but on moonless nights sightings are historically few and far between,this is because they can emerge well into dusk and have all night to hunt well whereas on dark nights they are often forced to hunt in the twilight of dusk and dawn,sometimes into the morning and so are more often reported.What is interesting is that witness reports and on the ground evidence gathering often pinpoint a big cat on the open downland part of it,s range on the moonless nights and in the far thicker cover of the hinterland on moonlit ones.As the South downs hugs the coast for a large proportion of it,s length it is well lit by light pollution from the huge urbanised areas that are the seaside towns,couple this with the usual large populations of rabbits that inhabit the town meets downs edges and it,s easy to see the attraction for nocturnal hunters.It certainly seems the case that a big cat would hunt on moonlit nights in the wooded areas that are interconnected with thick hedges and then hunting more out in the open on the downs on the dark nights in fact for the last 4 years it has been possible to predict with some degree of accuracy whether the downs or hinterland would throw up evidence of big cat activity depending on the state of the moon.There are exceptions of course like which season we are in or what weather is hitting us and to be truthful,the only certain thing to be said about big cats in Sussex is that there are no certainties.............(the photo shows a view of the downs to the west of Lewes with Streat hill at the top of the picture)

Thursday, 31 March 2011

The spring movements of a Sussex big cat

Here is some data on the spring movements of a particular Sussex big cat from this year.As i,ve said before,big cats in Sussex principally target rabbits at this time year and the evidence to back this up is overwhelming to say the least as well as the effects of the moon have on their behaviour.Take this big cat for example,since the end of january it has been sighted only at dusk and dawn on only moonless nights and when it has been seen on a moonlit period this has only been in the middle of the night (with lamps).It has been seen on 16 verifiable occasions with all bar 2 of these being in rabbit hot spots together with suitable cover enabling the cat to approach it,s prey easily.On the 2 exceptions it was seen at night travelling at speed crossing a road in an area with few rabbits and presumably heading straight to an area where there was better hunting.All sightings were of a very large alsatian sized,black cat usually seen trotting with a very long outstretched tail.It was described as having small ears,well muscled legs and a flat face.The same area has been mapped out by myself over the last 11 years with last year going on mostly on the ground evidence (previously posted on bigcatdetective blog) due to gaining the trust of various farmers etc. i have since uncovered witness sightings to back up this evidence found.

Briefly,it was seen at 1 site then 3 days later 16.5 km away with further sightings and other evidence linking it to the general area for a further 5 days.Then again 10 days later 14.5 km away on 2 days to be seen at night 8.5 km away.It certainly appeared to move quickly through the areas where there are few rabbits to appear for between 2 to 7 days in another area then to move on somewhere else.It has consistantly reappeared at the same cluster of parishes at the same stages of moon for 3 moons so far but i expect this to change by the next moon or at least by the end of april when it,s range should increase to take in account new food sources such as fledgling birds by which time it should still visit it,s previous places but not as predictably .

So far it,s spring range encompasses an area of around 140 but obviously i cannot say it hasn,t gone outside of this range in the time period.The summer range will increase greatly in size to accomodate new food sources coming into being along with the summer cover which will enable it to hunt this seasonal prey,like waterfowl on banksides.The picture shows how birds such as ducks and pheasants are active at the first slivers of light falling prey to crepuscular hunters like big cats and foxes.

Despite it,s huge size,around the 23" at the shoulder mark,it has consistantly ran away from dogs (4 occasions) and either trotted or ran off at speed when realising it had been seen by people...........

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Sussex big cats prey on badgers,more evidence...

Ok,so it,s scant evidence at best and only a skull of a youngish badger however it was found at a time earlier this month of intense big cat activity in West Sussex in an area where last year 2 fox carcases were found attributed as being big cat kills .There is ample evidence on and elsewhere on the net that big cats habitually take foxes but none of badgers falling prey to these apex predators,badgers are not preyed on by anything else,they amble along with impunity falling victim only to traffic and yet this skull was found miles away from the nearest road.My trail cameras have been set up on big cat spotting tasks and wildlife survey dutys alike but all in areas where big cats have been known to be active and all have produced remarkably few badger pictures given that this stripy faced mustelid is very widespread and numerous .At this time of year the big cats are targeting almost exclusively rabbits as the deer are very much harder to catch than they were in deep winter but rabbit numbers are not yet thronged by the multitudes of youngsters yet.They will however also take foxes and a young badger shoudn,t be too much of a task for them but i had always thought that badgers were not taken by big cats because of the lack of evidence found.It,s very rare to find any parts of a badger like a skull,they were observed by a 1950,s naturalist(the name escapes me) dragging a old dead boar badger out of a sett and burying the corpse in a nearby rabbit bury.In fact,after a lifetime of being in the country accompanied by my morbid facination of skulls and attached bones,this is probably only the second badger skull i,ve ever found.What is needed next is a badger carcase bearing all the hallmarks of being a big cat kill as this is the conclusive proof as it has been with deer and foxes.(related article dated 13.2.11).........

Friday, 18 March 2011

Falmer paw print

The big cat seen around the Brighton area (20" tall ) may well have left this 6cm wide paw print,it,s certainly very cat-like that is the 2 front toes are asymetrical,not parralel,there are no claw marks even though it,s a very deep print and it was found at the sort of place that a big cat would be expected to pass through.Coupled with this the Brighton sighting that was in the Argus newspaper was only down the road.Although not massive the print does concur with the size of cat that has been seen all winter till now from Offham to Telscombe and Devils Dyke and is far biggar than any domestic breed of cat could reach (the biggest Maine Coon tom from Keoka cats when splayed it,s paw was 5cm)with a print the actual paw is a bit larger to allow for skin etc so the actual paw that would of left this mark in the cow pat would of been closer to 7cm.Being in a cow pat is a first though as most cats don,t like getting their paws dirty,their pads are a connection with the ground and they feel their way away around........

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Mystery rabbit kills at Mt.Caburn

The sighting at Mt.Caburn last week previously posted as a possible puma sighting is now described as a sandy cat of about 20" tall.After meeting the witness who very kindly met me at the site and had already expertly investigated the area on the downland ridge where he saw the big cat and i an only repeat what was seen and it certainly doesn,t tally with being a puma.This is usual,witnesses very often say they saw a puma and then go on to describe a totally different big cat which is usually a British big cat.There are only 2 witness statements on my Sussex big cat files in 2010 where the description could and i repeat could tally with what would plausibly be called a puma or mountain lion and even then it is not definite and this is in the far east of the county.However the updated cat description does certainly fit in with what is usually seen in Sussex and especially the Lewes area,besides,evidence gathered at the scene,whilst by no means conclusive points to the usal prey being taken by the usual type of big cat,the British big cat.
The witness is a local chap and wildlife savvy,he showed me what he had found which was incredible to say the least for out in the open,about 3 weeks old,all eaten out the same way with the heads missing,the skin inside out literally dozens of rabbit carcases.They were spread out in the open around the ridge encompassing about 50 acres.We counted over 50 carcases and i must say in all my experience have never seen such a thing.My impression on seeing the first one from a distance was maybe a buzzard but they won,t chew on bones ,rasp them clean or skin them neatly inside out though a fox might but it would take the carcases off to some cover and not eat them on the spot in the middle of the field.There was little sign of them being killed either,not much fur lying around plus if a buzzard cathes and eats some of a rabbit the rest is usually taken off by scavengers like foxes or badgershowever sometimes when big cats kill and eat something,very often what is left won,t be touched,at least for a long time for some reason and this has been proved by leaving a trail camera at the scene in any case the rabbits appeared to be all eaten out in one sitting and all in the same fashion.
The dead rabbits were too far gone for a proper analysis but they do fit in with similar carcases found near big cat sightings and all were left in a similar fashion.What is clear is that in an area with such a high population of rabbits such as this,the numbers run into 1000,s,a big cat will stay for a short while say 2 or so weeks and hunt rather than move straight through,also Mt.Caburn especially it,s northern slopes and where the dead rabbits were is famous for big cat sightings over the years being thought of as a run through from the downs west of Lewes connecting that area with the ground all the way to Firle beacon and beyond.
As for the big cat itself,well,brown or sandy cats are very often male,the one seen locally previously has been much,much bigger and more different too look at so it,s not the brown one usually seen around here at this time of year.This is a very speculative theory at the moment but it may be a young male trying to find it,s way in the world and may be tolerated in the home range of its sire seen not more than 6 weeks ago a mile away.It has occurred to me of course that it is this big male but because it was lying down it looked smaller however there are a few defining features mentioned by the witnesses that i ommit from posting in order that witnesses describe fully what they see and not what they think they see which can be worlds apart so i,m pretty sure it,s not him.Further evidence will reveal itself i,m sure or the lack of any will prove otherwise.......

Mystery rabbit kills at Mt.Caburn big cat sighting

Saturday, 5 March 2011

These moonless nights have been buzy again

Well,at least one of our Sussex big cats has been furiously showing itself well these last moonless nights or should i say dawn twilights.3 very respectable sightings in 7 days means somethings going on.It,s in an area reasonably well known for big cat sightings over the years but not as frequently as recently and once again this 23" high big cat was chased by a dog out of some bushes which merely reinforces their unwillingness for conflict with man or one of his(her)beasts.The locations are all within a mile of each other but because of their proximity to a primary school wild horses won,t drag out of me where they are until they say so.A swiftly concocted mini vigil with another researcher on friday at daybreak saw a strong sun and bright light and not the dull mornings the big cat was seen on.Even so it was an interesting outing not least by hearing a magpie making a near perfect mimicry of a buzzard so good we even thought it was one at first.On the way home later in the day a stop off at the side hill east of Ditchling beacon brought a chance encounter with someone who had seen some sort of large cat not 200 yards from him with a load of other witnesses only an hour before.A pint of Harveys later finds a conversation with the barman and staff giving a pretty good description which i posted on, not a classic big cat type but something large definitely and not sounding very domestic.The actual description doesn,t though fit in with the type and colour of the big cat usually seen in the rough area so the jurys out for a bit on this one still,it,s nice to be able to have permission to give a location once in a while and along with a puma sighting on nearby Mt.Caburn earlier in the week there is surely a lot of movement going on with the Sussex big cats............

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Spring migration or just showing well?

There did seem to be a bit of a spring rush end of jan,first few days of feb.with 4 of our Sussex big cats showing well.Ok,so maybe the Offham cat doesn,t actually seem to have a,strictly speaking,winter holding area but the Midhurst and Horsham cats have acted as predicted.I,ll start with the Midhurst cat and as already blogged it moved west from it,s winter holding area of Lavington Heath/Goodwood forests/Heyshott and passed north of Heyshott(to be seen in a tree)presumably heading to the Iping area and maybe a little more north.The Horsham cat has been moving steadily south out of St.Leonards forest where it apparently spent the last 3 months (blogged 11.12.2010)The Steyning cat showed up at Lancing on the 29th for the first time since the october sighting at Wiston though i would not dare to hazard a guess where she has been all winter as these open downland cats don,t show the same form as the Hinterland ones proved by the Offham cat who was sighted on Kingston ridge in the 22nd and has been popping up her pretty little head occassionally all winter but then this is typical of first year females(i will explain my theory on this in a later blog)
The one that sticks out though is the Ashdown forest cat not actually seen but has been trimming out the local fallow(typical prey of huge males)with the evidence found.Coughing was heard here end of jan and a fellow researcher managed to retrieve several good sized pawprint plaster casts,seen with the deer slots and we all saw them at the Talk nite recently in Lewes.
So,my theory is that in october when the mad rush gets finished by final leaf fall there then follows 3 months when most cats are strictly crepuscular/nocturnal.They have long,long dark nights to get their hunting done and the dusks are very short,only the most visible of cats get seen.They emerge when the duck are flighting which is very late into dusk and so unless a person is right on top of them they won,t get seen.Humans divide the year up into 4 parts and so do animals but in slightly different ways.Spring starts end of jan unless cold weather holds it back.There is a different smell in the air and in a mild start like we are having this year the grass is growing already and they could,not all,but some of the cats be positioning themselves ready for the rabbiting season when the young rabbits are born which varys in it,s start from year to year.This year it was bang on cue being just after Valentines day(see the connection?)last year it wasn,t until the start of april.When the young rabbits are in full flood literally every predator is out gorging themselves on them and i just can,t see why the big cats would be any different.For a start the roe and fallow deer have been moving right out onto the arable crops nipping the tips off the winter wheat and so are harder to catch being out in the open,they no longer spend vast amounts of time in the forestry blocks with finds of deer carcases over the years always tailing off in febuary.It,s this time of year when i,ve found the most fox carcases with cat kill signs especially in a late bunny breeding year like last year and the year before,this year i would expect the foxes to take a bit less of a hammering unless a cat has cub/s and she,ll take them along with anything else she can get hold of.That rush of sightings did occur on the moonless nights when travelling rather than hunting can be more on a cats agenda but what usually happens is that as the year progresses there won,t be that much of a peak until late july which is 6 months time and 3 months before the october migration.I can find no patterns though in the april/may time but i suppose that means this time of year is patternless or i,ve just overlooked the obvious........

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Bigcat Evening Talk. Lamb inn,Lewes 22feb.

We are holding the evening talk at the Lamb inn,Fisher street.Meet at 7.30pm for 8ish start.Evidence never seen before in public will be on view like photos of the possible Offham cat(i will reveal more on the night),photos of deer killed by big cats in Sussex,plaster casts of pawprints.We will be talking about what the bigcats get up to on the downs and surrounding countryside of Lewes and why we think they are intrinsically linked into the ecosystem.Allsorts of other stuff will be going on like a question and answer session.Entrance is free but we will be passing the bucket round for charity and Merrily Harpur with her publishers,Roving press,have very kindly donated her book "Roaring Dorset"for the raffle.....

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Do bigcats in Sussex eat badgers?

There has been a distinct lack of badger pictures coming out of the trail cameras,in fact out of 7 different camspots this winter only 1 has showed badgers with any frequency.Of the others,2 now have just picked up these stripy things for the first time.Badgers are on the move a lot at this time of year as the yearlings get booted out of the main setts about now and the young boar badgers are forced to find areas well away from their familys sett.This is supported by the large number of roadkills seen at this time of year but this doesn,t explain why they have been absent from being in the picture so to speak.As the cameras are plotted up where bigcats are known to frequent it has left me wondering,wildlife groups have told me that they do notice a decline in badger activity in deep winter but they are still active and still show up on their cameras with frequency.

For some years now i,ve noticed that there are fewer signs of badger when i,m looking for bigcat evidence however i,ve always found it hard to believe that they are being preyed upon.For a start the adults are large,heavy,powerful animals with strong jaws,they are Mustelids like ferrets and their claws can rip up tree roots, dig the ground like JCB,s and so would cause damage to any animal foolish or unskillful enough to tackle them.Foxes usually give them a wide berth and their jugganort like run would shrug off any pursuier.

The subject of bigcats preying on them is something i have thought about and touched upon in previous blogs but i,ve had no hard evidence to back it up like carcases eaten in a cat-like way to prove anything.The occasional anecdotal statement by someone saying they saw a half eaten badger is no good to me unless i,ve seen either the carcase or good photos of the corpse.As regards the absence of them being in the trailcam pics it,s best,i find,to distinguish between evidence of coincidence and cause but everything happens for a reason in nature.........

Saturday, 5 February 2011

The type and history of the British bigcat

In understanding what types of big cat are out there it is necessary to make a giant intellectual leap in our observations of the evidence available either in photographic form,from eye witness statements or on the ground forensics.
It is only by the bold acceptance of these facts that we can begin to understand what has really been happening in so far as to how the types of cat have developed in the British countryside.

It is quite clear when researching the sightings of big cats that extremely few are actually described by witnesses as "it was a black panther"or"i saw a sandy coloured puma the size of a labrador"(a very tiny puma this must be).In fact the majority describe a large panther-like animal the size and colour of a black labrador or the height of an alsation and in other descriptions of the other many variants of cat out there.I say many variants because even the ample,mostly fuzzy photographic evidence mostly show a particular type of large cat that cannot be pigeon-holed into known species-specific descriptions, however,especially in Sussex,the descriptions and photos i possess do follow a particular format that is:from labrador to alsation size which is 20"to 26" tall at the shoulder having a long,sleek well muscled body,chunky legs,very long tail curled up at the end which is thickly furred in winter,a longish neck with a small head,green eye or yellow eyes,small ears and the face has a boxy appearance.

The colours seen are mostly black and occasionally, when the witness has a close up view,the coat has a mottled appearance with an undercoat of brownish-grey rosettes which is typical of black panthers.Other colours are brown or sandy and very occasionally grey,rarely cream.

They are called British big cats a term coined by Di Francis i gather,who did much work with Scotlands own bigcat,the Kellas cat, a 20"tall wild cat-domestic hybrid.These British big cats or BBC,s are certainly nothing like any other species known,what,s more,they couldn,t of got here by natural selection alone.These cats as a whole seem to display an adaptation to the variability and fluctuation of enviroments as well as natural selection of specific enviroments.In other words they seem to show a process that distances them from one enviroment that they could of come from such as ,for argument sakes,South East Asia as i don,t believe they are native to this country in the truest sense of the word,they have adapted themselves to where they live,a process that cannot happen over night and takes many,many generations to hone and develop into something that is as perfectly adapted as they are.Centuries in fact.

Of course there are very rarely classic,thick set,large headed black panthers and possibly also pumas but these have prefered other,remoter parts of the country and not in Sussex though they may have passed through.Many people who say"i think it was a black panther"then go on to describe an animal that quite clearly wasn,t one but fits the bill of a British bigcat.When not knowing exactly what they have seen witnesses,in my experience,often fill in the gaps so to speak and proffer a name they know will be recognized ,this catalogueing is well meant but blatantly flawed.
So,these British big cats are what exactly?Well it may be that they are some sort of bred down version of leopards,capable of mating with them,a sub-species,but it,s blindingly obvious even to the most casual of bigcat enthusiasts that they are visibly distinct.The many releases from last century merely topping up if at all an already existing population that are more suitably adapted to living in this country than the leopards per se as there would surely be more actual 100%,24carot black panthers around.

It,s often said that to account to sceptics for big cats existance they were "released on the "70,s after the dangerous animals act and that,s that" but i,m convinced by the lack of evidence of sightings of actual black leopards that this is only a tiny part and an almost irrelevent part of bigcat history.

For a start,the Romans brought massive amounts of big cats of all shapes and sizes over for their gory,prisoner maulings and gladiator fights,in Yorkshire recently,Archeoligists unearthed a gladiator that was found to be mortally wounded from such a fight with a tiger.Some of these animals would most likely to of escaped but i reckon that as the country by the time of the Plantagenets in the Middle ages was at its maximum sustainable human population of around 5 million and a similar amount of ground was cultivated as it is today but with most people living then were working the land,there were most likely be little room for cats if it were,nt for the invading Normans back in 1066.

They systematicaly ethnically cleansed huge areas of particular forest and heathland for hunting,especially deer,and threatened the deer-coursing Saxons with death if they took any with their greyhounds.Even by Henry the 8th,s time these huge royal hunting estates existed,sparcely populated and then only by estate workers and they were teeming with deer denied to the locals.I reckon by now a very small,visibly distinct interbred population of by now British big cat roamed the place a fact explaining the animals we have today.However there is not a lot of written evidence of this which is easily explained by the absence of most things countryfied written down anyway, i tried to find some sort of history of shepherd dogs back then and was stumped by finding there is none though they did exist,that is the problem with written "history".The only people who could write then were either in the ruling classes,certain tradesmen or the clergy and these sorts of people would only write about what interested themselves just as we do today.

Fast forward to the Industrial Revolution and the mass exodus of people to the new citys opened up new areas of the country to the bigcats seeing as they require unhindered ground to hunt coupled with this was the advent of foxhunting and a little later the new sport of flying bird shooting which created a new habitat of copses and ground that didn,t go on forever.It mustn,t be forgotten that prior to the Enclosures Act the countryside was a very open ,barren place up to the late Middle Ages comprised of strip farming and these new sorts of cover like hedges and fox coverts were absent.It is this sort of cover that big cats require to move and hunt around the country.So,the tapestry of the English countryside has changed over the centuries with each step becoming more favourable to cats leading us up to the Victorian times,it has to be that this is the latest possible time that the BBC,s started to form their particular type that we know so well.The Victorian and Edwardian middle and upper classes were very keen on all things nature and imported exotic pets like black leopards from Africa and particularly South East Asia through ports in the then colony of India.Travelling circus,s were also very popular and even exist to this day.

By the 1930,s however the big cats principal food source the roe was at an all time low and extinct in many parts of the country including Sussex,existing only in small pockets,in fact Sussex roe deer have stemmed mostly from intentional and accidental releases from the Petworth estate as have our local black fallow deer more recently,therefore the big cats in Sussex would themselves not be particularly spread across the county for this reason alone mind you the rabbit population was incredibly massive at this time up until 1953 far,far bigger than it is today so i would of thought the cats could of survived on rabbits where they could eke out an existance dodging the gin traps that were popular at this time.The outbreak of WW 2 saw rationing and the end of the heady days of the "30,s when once again exotic pets were popular like the black leopards,unfortunately or maybe luckyly many of them were released due to the lack of food and there are numerous examples of people doing this on the South downs and also the moors in the west.In fact after the end of hostilitys the Channel was teeming with fish seeing as it was far too dangerous to launch boats in the u-boat infested waters likewise the downs was full of game which were turned into military training grounds and the public were banned from entering.Armed Home Guards were posted but were only supplied with 3 rounds each to prevent them "helping themselves".After the war rationing was still in progress and the demobbed army descended on the countryside in droves only failing to wipe the rabbits.

1953 will always stand as the year myxy broke out wiping out rabbits to the tiniest fraction in numbers of their former selves,the deer were also very low in number and it,s no accident that bigcats were few and far between but by no means not around and it wasn,t until the late "80,s that sightings started to step up a gear mirroring the by now increasing numbers of roe and rabbits.The "87 hurricane gave deer a real boost though as with,what was it 10%of trees felled,in places nigh on all of them and the resulting opening up of the leaf canopy gave rise to secondary growth which roe especially thrive on which had been denied them by the collapse of hazel coppicing earlier in the century.Plus,the then conservative government in "88subsidised tree planting and introduced tax relief on forestry ownership with such an effect that the total area of wooded areas in Britain has increased by 25% since then to give a total now of 11.5% of total land mass(Actually the German blockade of Britain in WW1 prevented the import of Scandanavian spruce to shore up the coal mines and the country realised that the then 6% of total wooded area wasn,t nearly enough)Anyway,the point is that there is a lot more wood around for the deer and they have been steadily increasing ever since,paralelled by the British big cats that hunt them.............

Monday, 24 January 2011

1 day and 5 miles apart,2 different cats sighted

The usual deep winter lull in bigcat sightings generally perks up again in late january and this year is no exception.
I will explain the last 3 days in timeline format from my viewpoint so you may get the jist of the bizarreness of it all.Saturday is usually daughter day but i wasn,t due to pick her up until much later than normal until 2.30pm so a walk in the brisk northerly wind on the downland ridge was a priority.1pm finds us at the point above a 10 acre block of gorse stuck onto the steep sidehill where i always look at it thinking what a nice piece of lying up cover that it would make for a bigcat and then look southwards where the downs bow out to the sea creating a large block of say 5 by 5miles of classic rolling downland where i,ve gathered numerous bigcat evidence in the past and where there has been a heck of a lot of sightings.Sunday and it,s time to lift 1 of the trailcams from it,s spot nestling at the foot of the downs, 5 miles further to the west,because the recent wet weather we,ve had has flooded all the fields pushing most of the deer to higher ground and presumably the bigcats which hunt them have followed.
Meanwhile i get a text from Sussexbigcatwatch chairman which mentions a sighting on the very ridge,at the very spot where i was yesterday at 5ish,late into dusk,usual thing big,black creature heading south.By the time i got the message it was too late to get there so i just walked around the downland top where i was hoping to spot the woodcock flighting in to their favourite fields and so they did and i got some excellent views of 3 of them at 5.14pm in the by now dim light.While standing there quietly with the dogs on the leads as it was near a road they suddenly went on "cat-mark"which is,for them,heads slunk,tails flagging,serious,bullish and straining at the leash but not actually wanting to run off as such,with the odd low whine.Thinking it might be a farm cat it was too dark by now to see any different so we walked down home.Tonight another sighting has come in,the place just up the road from where i was standing watching the woodcock but on friday morning this time very big,brown(not many of these)boxy,otterlike face sat in full daylight in a field on it,s haunches,coincidence or what?I thought.But it gets even more weirder for it,s in the very same field that i investigated a sighting(black one)a year ago,jan 4th,it was actually spotted across the road but i followed the line from where it was said to have come from,checked the wire fence and found some black fur about an inch long(sadly "lost" at the lab awaiting analysis)Anyway back to the present and that,s 1 day and 5 miles apart,2 different cats spotted.They could be connected, maybe a male and female,the brown cats do seem to be a lot bigger quite often and i,ve reasoned that they could be males ,quite what they are doing so close together a day apart is another subject and i,ll present more evidence for this in due course.........The picture shows these native ponys looking towards the downland ridge of one of these sightings,taken in december..............

Friday, 14 January 2011

Research to increase knowledge and understanding of Bigcats in Sussex

This blog will be a platform for furthering the understanding of the Bigcats that are encountered regularly in the wild in Sussex......