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Phantom cats

From Academic Kids

Phantom cats or alien big cats (ABCs) are a phenomenon of Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii. The reported sightings, tracks and injuries indicate large felines, like exotic panthers or pumas. In some cases the evidence or concerns have been taken seriously by the authorities. The actual coining of the word "phantom panthers" occurred in the works of cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, during his 1970s' investigations and writings on reports of large black mystery felids and massive maned cats in North America.

Contents

United Kingdom

Over the last few decades people out walking have reported sightings of large, wild cats (not native to Britain, whose native Wild Cat, found in Scotland, is not a great deal larger than a domestic cat). The best known of these are the so called Beast of Bodmin, the Surrey Puma, and the Beast of Exmoor. The Kellas Cat is claimed to be a captured phantom cat. Though livestock have been occasionally killed, and numerous sightings reported, the evidence for these large wild cats is elusive. Occasional large cats are captured or killed, and it would be assumed they were one-off escapes from zoos etc., were it not for one major complicating factor: The Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976, which led to the mass release of privately owned wild cats.

Background

By the mid-1970s, a fad had arisen in the UK for keeping exotic animals of all types including big cats, as pets, and fears about large carnivores kept in people's houses and back gardens had generated pressure for something to be done to control this. The result was the Dangerous Wild Animals Act: this placed major restrictions on what animals could be kept, and the conditions under which they could be kept. Almost all cat species except the domestic cat were included under this head: bobcats, lynxes, jaguars, pumas etc. The net result of the Act was that anyone still wishing to keep these would have to build prohibitively expensive enclosures for them, or find a zoo that would take them, or have them killed. Zoos were swamped with owners trying to find a home for their animals; and the inevitable ensued. A number of owners confessed, some years later, that they had released their animals into the wild, to take their own chances, rather than see them killed. From 1976, and presumably for some time after, there were an unknown number of large cats roaming wild in Britain. Whether any of these survived and bred is unknown, but any now alive would be several generations after the original pets, and extremely shy of humans. There are people engaged in documenting sightings and attempting to determine what they may be, but evidence is mostly equivocal so far.

In January 2003, a dog was killed by a large predator in rural Wales; the body was discovered by an eyewitness who found the attacker still on the scene. He identified it as a big cat; further sightings in the area were suggestive of the animal being a panther. A postmortem confirmed that the dog had been killed by a large predator. However, animal hairs found in the dog's mouth did not come from a big cat (based on DNA analysis); they were mainly dog hairs, with some possibly being from a badger [1] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/wales/2705063.stm) [2] (http://www.britishbigcats.org/welshnews1.htm).

Australia

Sightings of exotic big cats in Australia started more than 100 years ago.

In the Gippsland region of south-eastern Victoria, the culprit is claimed to be American World War II airmen who brought pumas with them as pets. Again, no evidence has been found other than shady sightings and dead livestock which could well have been killed by dog packs.

Claimed sightings of big cats and their effects have instigated government studies of the Grampian Mountains Pumas in Victoria, and the Blue Mountains Panther (not to be confused with the Penrith Panthers rugby league team) and Lithgow Panther in New South Wales.

New Zealand

Since the late 1990s, big cat sightings have been reported in widely separated parts of New Zealand, in both the North and South Islands. There have been several panther sightings in Mid-Canterbury near Ashburton and in the nearby foothills of the Southern Alps, but searches conducted there in 2003 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry found no corroborating physical evidence.

Hawaii

Legendary stories of "mystery big cats" on the island of Maui have been circulating since the late 1980s. In December 2002, sightings of a big cat increased in number in the Kula (upcountry) area, and the Division of Forestry and Wildlife requested the help of big cat wildlife biologists William Van Pelt and Stan Cunningham of the Arizona Game and Fish Department. It is theorized that a large feline cat was brought illegally into Hawaii as a pet and released (or more likely, allowed to wander) in the wild. The big cat managed to elude traps, infrared cameras, and professional trackers. A fur sample was obtained in 2003 but DNA analysis was inconclusive. Experts speculate that the big cat may be either a Jaguar, Leopard or Mountain Lion.

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