'Reliable' big cat sightings revealed

A A A

Two big cats were caught on camera by rangers who were filming a deer survey, the Forestry Commission revealed today.

Under a Freedom of Information Act request, the government agency confirmed that two "reliable" sightings of large cats have taken place in the last seven years.

Experts monitoring deer using thermal imaging cameras spotted the animals on two separate occasions in different parts of the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire.

Commission spokesman Stuart Burgess said the sights had been confirmed by "very experienced" rangers unlikely to mistake deer for big cats.

He said today: "Both were observed in low light, using heat-activated vision equipment while they were carrying out a deer census. The colour of the animals couldn't be made out, but these are very experienced guys and they know what is and what isn't a deer. One definitely believed that what he saw was some sort of large cat."

The first sighting was at the outskirts of Churchill enclosure, east of Parkend in February 2002. The second was on the southern slopes of Staple Edge in March 2005.

There was no sign of large cats during the most recent deer census in March 2008, however.

Gloucestershire police also suspect there are pairs living in the Forest of Dean and around Cirencester and say they "take sightings seriously".

The force's wildlife and environmental crime officer, Mark Robson, who gathers evidence about glimpses of the creatures, said today: "I have been looking at big cat sightings since 2002 and believe the two examples to be credible sightings.

"Gloucestershire Constabulary gets around 100 sightings a year from members of the public. Most of these are at some distance, it's very rare to have a close encounter.

"If you suspect you've seen a big cat you should jot down the details and contact the police. We will take sightings seriously and will investigate."

The sighting is one of several in the Forest this decade.

In November 2006, schoolboys Joe Tingle and Chay Maidment ran in terror after a big "green-eyed" animal came towards them through undergrowth near Ruspidge.

In March, a big cat was seen by a dog walker who believed he had met a leopard.

A survey by the British Big Cats Society showed more than 2,000 suspected big cat sightings were reported nationwide between 2004 and 2005.

Besides Gloucestershire, only Devon and Yorkshire recorded more sightings among the English regions during that time.

Most wild cat sightings are attributed to panthers, with a handful of reports put down to their smaller cousins the lynx, once native in this country.

Their freedom in the wild is attributed to a range of sources from escaped zoo and circus animals to a mass release in the 1970s after the enforcement of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act.



Deputy surveyor Rob Guest, who was present at both sightings, said today that his team were "interested, excited, and surprised" when the unmistakable thermal images appeared in the gloom.

It was the clear shape of the animals' long tails that told Mr Guest's crew they were not dealing with a deer, he said.

He said: "I was driving at the time, which is quite something in itself through the forest at night. The images showed up white on the thermal imaging equipment which registers body heat.

"You basically get a white image upon a black background. It was clear enough so that the tail was very, very obvious. It was more than a deer.

"I couldn't tell you how big they were or what they were. They were just large, full cats.

"At that time, going back five years, there were lots of sightings and rumours. At the second sighting in 2005, there were a lot of rabbits living in that particular area, and studies have shown that, when cats go wild, rabbits are a major source of their food."

One theory was that people had kept them and then released them after stricter laws came into effect, he said.

Mr Guest, 58, who has worked for the Forestry Commission for 18 years, said these were the only two wild big cats he had seen in his career.

He continued: "It may just have been one or two ranging over huge distances. The forest is fairly wild country anyway, so that may be the reason they were there.

"We weren't scared, but more interested, excited and surprised."

The deer surveys, which take place every three years, are carried out all night for three or four weeks.

At the time of the sightings Mr Guest was accompanied by only one or two colleagues.

Suggested Topics
Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
These photographs released by the University of Maryland Medical Center show images of full face transplant recipient 37-year-old Richard Lee Norris of Hillsville, Virginia
mediaGQ front page features man who underwent full face transplant
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
Arts and Entertainment
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Sport
Moeen Ali wearing the 'Save Gaza' and 'Free Palestine' wristbands on his left arm
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tv
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Battle of the Five Armies trailer released
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Java Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: JAVA DEVELO...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Developer

£475 - £550 per day: Progressive Recruitment: MDAX / Dynamics AX / Microsoft D...

.Net/ C# Developer/ Analyst Programmer - Eciting new Role

£45000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .NET/ C# .Pr...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on