by Matthew Cobb
Every country seems to have its cryptozoological fantasies. Tibet has the Yeti, the US has Bigfoot, the Congo has Mokele-mbembe. And Britain has… the Beast of Bodmin. Or the Beast of Exmoor. Or the Beast of Bevendean.
In each of these cases, people sight something that looks like a big cat – as in a panther or a leopard. None of these sightings claim to be of tigers or African lions. Strictly speaking, this is not the realm of cryptozoology, as no one is claiming these are unknown species. The argument is that they are animals that have escaped from zoos, circuses or the homes of rich people with massive underground bunkers who tend to have plans for world domination and go “Mwah-haa-haaa”.
Natural England – a government organisation that does what it says on the tin – has been studying claims of alien animals in the UK, and has found 38 sightings of “big cats” that cannot be explained. They have concluded that some of the claims might be true, but there is no evidence for breeding populations.
Charlie Wilson of Natural England is reported as saying: “The evidence is there that there are the odd, escaped, released dumped animals occurring in the wild every now and then.” None of this applied to the alleged big cats, for which there was no confirmation beyond exaggerated claims (“it was as big as a car”) or the usual blurry photos. “It is very unlikely that there are any big cats at large” was the conclusion.
The Sun “newspaper” reported this as “Official: No Big Cats in UK”, and printed this picture with the caption “Big cats are a myth … but if they don’t exist then how does the government explain these?”
The Natural History Museum has a neat little web page explaining how they were called in to examine what appeared to be the skull of a big cat, found on Bodmin Moor in the south of England. Discovering the truth involved not only comparative anatomy but also forensic entomology, and is quite enlightening.
Apart from the not-terribly-interesting possibility that a handful of poor Alien Big Cats (ABCs) may be roaming the British countryside, it’s probably more interesting to ask the question why people are so keen to believe in them…
Wikipedia page on UK ABCs (caveat emptor, as with all Wikipedia pages)