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Lair of the Beasts: Big Cats and Secret Documents
The Wild Files
By Nick Redfern
March 06, 2011
Creatures on the Loose
During the early part of 1998, the British Government’s House of Commons held a fascinating and arguably near-unique debate on the existence – or otherwise – of a particular breed of mystery animal that is widely rumoured, and even accepted by many, to inhabit the confines of the British Isles: the so-called Alien Big Cats, or ABCs, as they have become infamously known.
It scarcely needs mentioning that Britain is not home to an indigenous species of large cat. Nevertheless, for decades amazing stories have circulated from all across the nation of sightings of large, predatory cats that savagely feed on both livestock and wild animals and that terrify, intrigue and amaze the local populace in the process.
Documentation that was generated as a result of the February 2, 1998 debate on the controversy in the House of Commons began with a statement from Mr. Keith Simpson, the Member of Parliament for mid-Norfolk: “Over the past twenty years, there has been a steady increase in the number of sightings of big cats in many parts of the United Kingdom. These are often described as pumas, leopards or panthers. A survey carried out in 1996 claimed sightings of big cats in 34 English counties.”
In response, Elliot Morley, at the time the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, said: “It is impossible to say categorically that no big cats are living wild in Britain, so it is only right and proper that the Ministry should continue to investigate serious claims of their existence – but only when there is a threat to livestock and when there is clear evidence that can be validated. I am afraid that, until we obtain stronger evidence, the reports of big cats are still in the category of mythical creatures.”
Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, we now have that stronger evidence. Replying in 2006 to a FOIA request from a member of the public with an interest in big cat sightings seen in the county of Hampshire between 1995 and 2005, the county’s Police Force released secret files that stated:
“Hampshire’s Constabulary’s Air Support Unit has been deployed to assist with the following reports: January 1995 – Black Panther like animal seen in Eastleigh. Two likely heat sources found by the aircraft, but nothing found by ground troops. March 1995 – Black Puma like animal seen in Winchester. One heat source found that could not be classified by the aircraft crew, kept running off from searching officers, search eventually abandoned.”
Notably, when a similar FOIA request was filed with Sussex Police in late 2005, documentation was made available to the requester that read as follows: “Firearms officers have been deployed in response to such a report on one occasion, on 22 July 2004 – sighting by a member of the public in Seaford. The area was searched, but no trace was found of such an animal.”
The story is far more spectacular on the east coast of England, however. In 1991, documents show, a lynx – that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs believed may have escaped from a zoo; although this was never actually proven – was shot dead near Great Witchingham, Norfolk, by a man who then placed the body in his freezer before selling it to a local collector who decided to have the creature stuffed.
It transpires that an extensive dossier on the affair was opened by local police that – as with the above-reports on other exotic felines prowling the British countryside – would have remained under lock-and-key were it not for the useful provisions of the Government’s Freedom of Information Act.
Matters began when police officers were investigating a gamekeeper who, it was suspected, may have been responsible for the deaths of a number of birds of prey that had been living within the area. The officer that interviewed the man in question wrote in his now-declassified official report: “At the start of the search in an outhouse, which contained a large chest freezer, I asked him what he had in the freezer, and he replied: ‘Oh, only some pigeons and a lynx.’ On opening the freezer there was a large lynx lying stretched out in the freezer on top of a load of pigeons! He had shot this when he saw it chasing his gun dog.”
Britain’s exotic cats, it seems, are no longer the myth that many want them to be or believe them to be – and the government knows it full well, too.
Nick Redfern is the author of many books, including Final Events; The NASA Conspiracies; and the forthcoming The Real Men in Black.