Tuesday, 19 November 2019

CARL WRITES: Big Cats in Built Up Areas

Being sighted around farm buildings and country lanes is one thing, sightings in and around towns (and cities) are quite another. Escaped leopards and pumas, once fully wild, will naturally avoid these places unless they have no other choice. In places like India where leopards are becoming more bold and entering towns and cities at night, it should be remembered that these places now typically sit on locations previously used by these species for many thousands of years. Human populations have never been so high, and leopard's, never so low. There is a very obvious reason for this and the unnatural behaviour we're seeing more frequently in countries where these species naturally occur reflects how human encroachment is forcing the animals to evolve behaviourally to the unnatural situation.

A similar scenario would play out in Britain, were there as many animals out there as the media, and some researchers suggest; which is highly unlikely as if this were the case there would be far stronger evidence for them. If we simply except all the reports presented at face value there will seem to be thousands, or at the least, many hundreds of these animals. This cannot be the case, or we would have far better proofs of their prolonged existence here. The problem is there is no real filter. And then, when the problem is looked at comprehensively, and we say to ourselves - why are they doing this? or, why don't they do that in the wild? it's almost impossible to be certain. Whereas, if we are more analytical (I mean, they are out there, there is good evidence for them!) we will have a far better chance of officially proving their presence and situation.

That being said, it is potentially possible to observe one in a town (or even a city) if the animal hasn't yet [re]adapted itself. But that animal, if it doesn't become wild very quickly, (i.e. avoid all human activities), it will be quickly recaptured, if it's lucky, or shot if it’s not!. This has happened a few times and is actually one of the better pieces of evidence for their apparently continual existence. Felicity the puma (1980) and more recently the case in Lille, France, back in September, were both examples that hadn't yet fully 'rewilded'. The juvenile captured in France and then later stolen had only been free for a day, and hadn't had any opportunity to settle into a wild environment. Although since the theft, anything's possible!.

I do expect that some breeding has naturally occurred in Britain, there is some evidence to at least suggest the possibility, but it's highly unlikely populations are sustained in this way. So, where do these animals come from? We can't keep blaming the zoos (although I think small holdings are still a concern) as today these institutions have to follow the most stringent laws in order to just remain open, they simply wouldn't risk not reporting an escape, especially one of an apex predator, to the authorities (I would know, until five years ago I was a zookeeper).
The pet trades, both legal and illegal, are the only other serious explanation.

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