Get with the beasts: a big game hunter's guide to modern Britain

Reports of a big cat going wild near Stroud only scratch the surface. Tom Peck and Joshua Carroll investigate
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1. Cougar

When PC Chris Swallow, a Ministry of Defence dog handler, filmed a sleek, black, metre-long cat in Argyll, Scotland, in 2009, he was convinced it was a black panther.

But locals insisted that it was the Coulport Cougar, which is said to have been spotted several times in the area since 2005.

Click here for the full graphic: A big game hunter's guide to modern Britain.

2. Lioness

In 2010, academic and former mountain ranger, Dr Bob Sharp, reported seeing a 5ft-long, beige-coloured creature prowling in the Kilsyth Hills in Stirlingshire. He concluded that the creature was a lioness. Experts said that this was “not impossible” as the hills are rich in prey, such as lamb and deer. There have been no further reported sightings.

3. Giant rats

In Bradford, West Yorkshire, 2½ ft-long rats have been spotted on the Ravenscliffe estate, even attracting hunters from outside the area. The Mammal Society claims they are in fact coypu - large South American rodents that may have escaped from a farm in East Anglia.

4. Siberian chipmunks

Firmly established in parts of the South and the Midlands. In Wolverhampton, a young mother was attacked by a pair of them in 2009. As well as inflicting a nasty bite, the creatures can carry the sometimes fatal Lyme disease, and other highly contagious viruses.

5. The Stroud deer-eater

Scientists are still analysing DNA samples to test claims that the creature that mutilated a deer at Woodchester Park, Stroud, this week, was a big cat such as a panther or a puma – which could be connected to an albino “big cat” seen in nearby Nailsworth a few days earlier.

6. Man-eating sharks

Repeated sightings of shark species off the Cornish coast, from a mako (Maori for “man-eater) in 2009 to a large oceanic white tip near St Ives in 2011 have been reported. A series of alleged sightings of a great white off Crackington Haven in 1999 remain unconfirmed.

7. The Beast of Bodmin

There have been many reports since 1983 of a black big cat that farmers on Bodmin Moor blame for slaughtering livestock. A 20-second video, released in 1998, may or may not have confirmed the existence of such a beast. But a 1995 Ministry of Agriculture report insisted that there was no evidence of big cats living in the area.

8. Wild boar

Extinct in the UK since the 17th century, boar returned to the British wild in the 1980s after a handful escaped from farms. The population could now be as high as 1,000, spread through seven English counties, notably Dorset. Hunters have been culling boars, which are considered pests, since 2007. Landowners are not obliged to record a kill.

9. Black panthers

Repeated searches by police marksmen have failed to locate the big, dark cat – assumed to be a melanistic jaguar or leopard (ie, a black panther) – reported in Sydenham, south-east London, in 2002 and 2005. But Tony Holder, who required hospital treatment after being mauled by the beast in his back garden, has no doubt that it was real. Since the life-expectancy of such a creature is about 12 years, it is probably still around.

10. Scorpions

Venomous yellow-tail scorpions – accidentally introduced from Italy – have lived in the walls of Sheerness Dock for hundreds of years. Recent warm summers have boosted their numbers to 13,000. Their sting, luckily, is not lethal.