Reports of a lion spotted roaming around a Clacton caravan park certainly sparked the public’s imagination earlier this week. However, no real evidence has been discovered yet as to the origin of this titanic tabby, or even if it existed in the first place. Amid all the excitement and drama of an imaginary predator terrorising Essex, peeing on flowerbeds and eating small children, it’s easy to forget that there have been many stories like this before. Many, many stories. As far as I can gather, a real big cat hasn’t been captured in England since 2001, and that was a lynx rather than the mythological British lions and tigers we hear so much about. (It also didn’t eat any children. Apparently.)
Despite this fact, England is in no shortage of big cat myths. There was the man in south-east London who was apparently attacked in his garden by a “large black figure about the size of a Labrador dog” in 2005 (Clue: Probably a Labrador dog), but then there are yet more inexplicable cases, including mutilated farm animals and various fuzzy photographs showing large black animals with long tails walking the moors, looking distinctly puma-like. Scientists even found leopard DNA in north Devon just last year. Is there any truth to these rumours? To help you make your mind up, we have complied a list of possible alternate explanations for a wild cat sighting. If you see any giant kitties at any point after today, simply consult this handy list and attempt to rule out the following:
1. You are standing very far away from a regular cat: Sometimes distance can create the illusion of size. Perspectives can easily mess with a person’s head, and it’s possible that if you see a sleek, glorious leopard running across the field next to your house, take into account that this could just be a very fat cat that is quite far away.
2. You are standing very close to a regular cat: This one is pretty self explanatory.
3. It could just be a huge cat: Unbeknownst to the majority of the British public, some cat breeds can grow to ridiculous proportions. Maine Coons, for example, can grow up to 18 pounds and, as they are a long haired breed, look even bigger. Maine Coons can actually grow larger than some wild cat breeds, which may explain some of the hundreds of wild cat sightings the police receive each year. Or maybe a large proportion are down to drunk students getting freaked out on Halloween by sexy cat women. There is no definite answer. It’s just one of life’s mysteries, i’m afraid.
4. Were you drunk when you saw the big cat?: See point 3.
5. Does the cat look fluffy? And… Toy-ish?: So, so many cases of wild animals in bizarre places have ended up with aforementioned wild animal turning out to be a fluffy toy. More cases than is decent. For example, on the 20th January this year, citizens of Houston, Texas were stunned to discover a giant 8 foot tiger casually lounging on the roof of a local hotel. A crowd gathered and police were called in for a full tiger-extraction exercise before they discovered that… It was a fluffy toy. So, not that i’m condoning throwing rocks at wild and endangered creatures, but… If you see a large African/Indian mammal lying very still in a public place, perhaps you should try to check if it’s a cuddly toy before calling in the authorities. (Note: I take no responsibility for any limb loss or underwear soiling that may be caused by this article).
6. It’s a dog: If you see a cat the size of a dog then it’s probably a dog.
7. It’s a regular cat: If you see something that looks like a big cat then, unless you see it gnawing on a deer carcass, it’s probably just a cat.
8. Bigfoot: If you see an unexplainable flash of glossy fur and glinting eye through a crack in the trees, it’s entirely possible that you just experienced a close encounter with Bigfoot, otherwise known as Sasquatch or Mountain Man. In this occurrence, do nothing. Simply go home feeling blessed that you caught a glimpse of this shy and majestic creature.
Follow these simple guidelines (Except for the last one. And possibly the fifth one, too), and you will soon be on your way to deciding whether it was a panther you saw or a big black bin bag.
If you do, despite all of this, believe that you have seen something strange or unusual, please do get in touch with me – I saw something the other day that looked like a cross between a cat, a fox and a raccoon and I still for the life of me can’t think of what it might be.