'No big cats in the wild', say experts
BRITAIN'S environment watchdog has ruled out the existence of big cats in the wilds of the Westcountry, despite countless sighting claims by members of the public.
Natural England said it was "confident that there is no breeding population of big cats" in the UK after releasing a list of the exotic species reported to it by the public.
wildlife writer Trevor Beer, who has been researching the animals since the 1980s, said the agency was wrong to write off thousands of genuine sightings.
Mr Beer said: "The big cats are out there. I don't know why Natural England is going down this line – they are just making fools of themselves."
The agency's list contained several reports from Devon and Cornwall over the past five years, ranging from big cats to wild boar and even a wallaroo – a kind of kangaroo.
The document, released under the Freedom of Information Act, shows the government agency took "no action" on the "inconclusive" big cat sightings.
However, the numerous sightings of wild boar in Devon, linked to a deliberate release from a farm at South Molton, were regarded as confirming the existence of "exotic species".
A spokesman for Natural England said it collected records of "alleged sightings" and investigated "where necessary".
"Non-native species are one of the most serious threats to global biodiversity," he said, "and it is important that we find out about any new threat as early as possible."
He said the agency had not compiled a "secret dossier" of big cat sightings and had published data from 2001-2007 on its website. That was being updated to include the 32 big cat sightings from 2008 and 2009.
"The claimed sightings since 2001 include a wide range of species – chipmunks, coypus, wild boar and raccoons," the spokesman added.
"From time-to-time we also receive occasional reports from members of the public of alleged big cats. However, none of the sightings of big cats has ever been confirmed and the evidence of all the sightings we have been asked to look at has either been inconclusive or attributed to other causes.
"From time to time big cats do escape from zoos or other collections and are usually recaptured very quickly. We are confident there is no breeding population of big cats in this country and it is very unlikely that there are any big cats at large in the English countryside."
However Mr Beer, from Barnstaple, said he had seen several big cats and is confident that puma and leopard are surviving in the wild.
"There are no issues with the climate," Mr Beer said, "and they are living off the fat of the land."