Thursday, 9 May 2019

CARL WRITES: Pershore Roe Deer Carcass, 2016

Was the 2016 Pershore Roe Deer Carcass Really Predated by a Large Unknown Felid?

Back in 2016, a strange looking roe deer carcass Capreolus capreolus was discovered near the Countrywide warehouse at Defford Mill near Pershore. On Wednesday April 13th, at approximately 2.30pm, I travelled to this location in Worcestershire to view the carcass and request an interview with Mr. Gareth Price; the Site Operations Manager who first discovered and photographed the remains and reported it to the Evesham Journal.

After a brief conversation, Mr. Price pointed me in the general direction of the carcass and then added that Rick Minter; a British big cat researcher based in Gloucestershire, and Bob Lawrence of West Midland Safari and Leisure Park, had both independently visited and inspected the remains a few days previously. I was most surprised when Mr. Price claimed there were actually two eviscerated carcasses; a buck (male) and a doe (female), killed only a few days apart and discovered within the same field. This, along with the alleged broken neck, at least at first seemed promising. Mr. Price also claimed Mr. Minter had apparently already verified the buck carcass was the work of a large predatory Felid. Mr. Lawrence, on the other hand, does not believe there is any evidence of big cat activity.

The Evesham Journal had previously reported the roe deer carcass photographed by Mr. Price had a broken neck, and that it was probably the work of a big cat that is alleged to stalk the area. Upon further examination however, one of the first things I discovered was there was absolutely no evidence whatsoever of any damage to the cervical vertebrae on either carcass. The buck’s head and neck, published in the Evesham Journal, was completely turned around and facing the opposite direction; this does not necessarily indicate a break as all deer easily articulate in this manner when looking out for predators. The doe however, which was positioned about twenty feet from the road (not the buck as was previously implied by the media) did have one completely severed lumbar vertebrae!

By now both carcasses had been ‘hollowed out’ in the typical fashion with their stomachs exposed, and displayed several chewed rib bones and the contents of the rib cage were also missing. The small stomach and small intestine, along with all the surrounding tissues had been completely eaten away and it was quite obvious by now both carcasses had been dragged about post-mortem by scavengers; probably foxes, and very likely people. By the time I arrived, almost a week had passed since the newspaper report and decomposition had by now firmly set in, and one must admit additional positive evidence may have been lost during this time.

While checking for the alleged broken cervical vertebrae I found no puncture or slash marks on either deer to indicate a predatory attack, however the doe had considerable mutilation to her upper cranium exposing the frontal bone and no external ears were present; one might reasonably speculate that these might have been rasped off by a cat’s tongue; however, upon viewing the carcass it looked more like they had been torn away, probably by a fox as opposed to the prolonged licking of a cat’s papillae!

I found the spoor of many Canids, such as domestic dogs and foxes in the vicinity of the carcasses, but also found a limited number of tracks that appeared to be vaguely feline in appearance; being proportionately broad, asymmetrical with no visible claw marks, with longish oval toe pads.  (See CFZ Yearbook, 2016)

Unfortunately the posterior edge of the plantar pad was indistinct and did not come out clearly in any of the photographs. However, considering the variation displayed in the spoor of different dog breeds, and also taking into consideration the soil density of the location due to recent weather conditions, it’s quite possible these were large dog tracks and not feline at all.

Domestic dog spoor varies greatly in both size and shape between breeds, for example:

  • German Shepherd: Length = 9.4 – 10 cm, Width = 9.4 cm.
  • Beagle: Length 6.9 cm, Width 5.6 cm.
  • West Highland Terrier: Length 3.75 cm, Width 3.1 cm.

Both carcasses had solid necks showing absolutely no sign of damage to the cervical vertebrae, if there had been damaged cervical neck vertebra that I somehow missed, there was nothing to suggest that it was caused by a large predator, as just outside the field the road cambers upwards either side of the gateway, creating blind spots from both directions which could easily have caused the deaths of both the deer.

This area outside the gateway would potentially be a highly dangerous location for many unsuspecting wild animals as they wouldn’t acknowledge the danger of any approaching vehicles until the headlights were directly upon them, and by then it would likely be too late. Under the gateway leading into the field is a large opening through which a determined fox could potentially drag a carcass killed on the road into the field, away from traffic for consumption, however considering I found no evidence of cervical damage this scenario is quite unnecessary as the deer, after being hit, quite likely made their own way into the field to die and were then later scavenged upon.

I also found several scratch marks and dried grass on a fence post that I initially thought may have been left by a large Felid crossing from the road over into the field, though upon further examination it seemed more likely this was actually caused by human activity as the post is positioned exactly halfway between the two carcasses on approach to the location. Anyone who wished to enter the field to view the carcasses but didn’t want to walk round to the gateway would have probably crossed the fence exactly in that area.

Data Collected:

I photographed the carcasses and the spoor. I also took swabs for DNA analysis from the head, neck and rib cages of both carcasses and collected an unusual looking faecal sample found in close proximity to the buck. Apart from some sheep wool and horse hairs snagged on a barbed wire fence close by, I unfortunately found no unidentifiable hair samples for morphology.

Positive evidence might be the exposed frontal bone - that may had been caused by the rough rasping papillae from a Felid, but more likely, going by the appearance of the trauma, was torn off by a known scavenger. However, the spoor discovered may be considered as having feline characteristics.

The lower abdominal cavities consumed; probably by known scavengers and the broad, clawless, asymmetrical spoor discovered, damage to the hind limbs that were probably caused post-mortem by scavengers, and the severed lumber vertebrae can all be considered neutral evidence.

The negative evidence is the undamaged cervical vertebrae, no puncture or slash marks found around the neck with little or no hairs missing, and the dangerous location in terms of animal-vehicle collisions. No further physical evidence of feline activities.


Apart from the spoor (see CFZ Yearbook, 2016), which could have also been produced by a large unspecified dog breed, and the exposed frontal bone of the roe’s skull, it seems plausible these carcasses were both the result of road collisions and the other injuries were probably post-mortem caused by known local wildlife. I think we can be fairly confident about this, however I did collect biological samples to be tested if considered necessary at a later date.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest non native Felids such as leopards Panthera pardus, pumas Puma concolor, lynxes Lynx sp., jungle cats Felis chaus and leopard cats Prionailurus bengalensis etc. are, or at least have been, roaming the wilds of Britain in recent times, though unfortunately this particular case of the Pershore Roe Deer Carcass was likely a red herring!    

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