Sunday, 12 February 2012

Big cat goes indoors of house in Seaford


Last sunday(5th feb.and previously posted on 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 "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 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......