Richard Thomas: As a researcher of more than 20 years into "big cat" sightings across the world (especially in the UK) what do you think the truth behind this phenomenon is?
Neil Arnold: The 'big cat' phenomenon is NO mystery at all, not in any country. As a race we always like to add mystery to even normal situations. Crop circles, Men In Black, cattle mutilations, have always been blamed on UFOs yet without proof and the 'big cat' situation is no different. In the UK the press are to blame for the local 'beast' stories. For many the 'big cat' enigma is a modern mystery but that's because the press only became that interested the last thirty or so years, although in the UK the Surrey Puma was making a few headlines in the 1950s. The main theory as to why so many cats are out there concerns the ease such animals were obtained in the '60s and '70s. Lions, cheetahs, leopards etc, were available from local pet shops, major stores and via adverts in the newspapers and then in the '70s the Dangerous Wild Animals Act was introduced which meant any owners had to pay huge license fees for their 'pets' and so instead of paying, instead of giving them up to zoo parks, they released them into the wilds. This is a good theory but it doesn't explain the sightings on record that date back a handful of centuries.
I have records which state that strange cat-like animals were sighted in the 1500s, and the main answer to such populations lies with many origins, 1) when the Roman's settled here they imported many wild animals, elephants, bears, and leopards, to perform in lethal combat in their amphitheatres, and I'm sure that some cats would have escaped. 2) Meanwhile, travelling menageries were very popular in the Victorian era, and not all of the exhibitions would have been up to scratch as rickety wagons took to the rough roads with their exotic cats behind bars, 3) Private collections. The Royals had their own menagerie, the Tudors used to hunt their own large cats, some cats such as Jungle Cats were used aboard boats to kill rats and once docked here such animals may have escaped/been released. There are so many reasons as to why large cats roam our woods, and in the USA it's no different except that many people believe the black cats being seen are black pumas but there has never been a black puma. In the '60s black leopards (panthers) were certainly a very symbolic pet to house and it's this animal which makes up for a majority of 'big cat' sightings in the UK and this cat is a true 'big cat' as, like the lion, jaguar and tiger it can roar.
Other cats we have in the UK are the puma which the United States can boast as a native animal, and also the lynx which we last had a few thousand years ago, but, there are too many inadequate researchers out there creating too many unnecessary complexities. These cats are NOT ghosts, NOT demons, NOT prehistoric survivors, and not mutants. Even in the US I'm convinced that most black cat sightings concern black leopards. Until someone sees a black cat scream, we must stick with the black leopard. Such animals only produce black offspring but they themselves can originally come from a mixed litter but a recessive gene means, especially in the UK, that all the leopard sightings are of black (melanistic) specimens and not normal leopards, although in the black leopard the rosettes can still be seen under the dark coat.
The British 'big cat' situation is not a complex one. We have smaller cats also such as the caracal, jungle cats (which can breed with the domestic cat) and possibly other smaller cats such as ocelots and servals which have been released. I see no need to create a bigger mystery but instead look at the facts, but all the while so many crazy theories keep on emerging these cats will eternally be relegated to folklore and put alongside UFOs etc. I could go on foreever because a lot of people out there need to be made aware that the mystery cat situation is not a mystery.
from "Para News" by Richard Thomas.