During mid-August 2008 a Thamesmead man had three sightings of a large, dark-coloured cat during the early hours as he peered out from his window. On each occasion, the animal he saw appeared bigger than a Labrador, but was of feline gait, and after a few minutes slinked out of sight. Surprisingly, these kinds of encounters on the outskirts of the capital are reasonably frequent, suggesting that a large cat is on the prowl.
During the 1950s and ‘60s the Surrey ‘puma’ hit the headlines throughout London, when numerous witnesses came forward to report sightings of what at the time was described as a lioness, although was more likely a puma, a fawn-tan coloured animal native to parts of the USA and Canada.
Despite the mass press coverage, the beast was never caught, providing sceptics with enough doubt on the existence of such an animal. Sightings of the so-called Surrey puma never actually died out, but the press interest did.
As recently as July 2008 several witnesses from the Reigate area spoke of a large, tan-coloured animal with a long tail prowling Surrey, but surely, as such cats only live for around 18 years, this couldn’t be the same animal which had been sighted several decades ago.
And what of the Beast of Bexley, a large, black animal resembling what is known as a ‘panther’ (black leopard) which has been sighted since the late ‘90s in areas such as Bromley, Erith, Sydenham, Plumstead and Welling?
In May 2008 a large cat, resembling a puma, was seen on two occasions in Southwark, not exactly ideal habitat for a large felid. The first sighting took place next to Southwark Police Station when a courier was parked up one night and was stunned to see a cat creep towards the vehicle entrance. A few days later on 31st May, I appeared on the BBC London Breakfast Show with Paul Ross and Joanne Goode to discuss my research, and coincidentally received an email from a male witness who, on the same morning, had seen a large, light-brown cat roaming the area of the demolished London Park Hotel.
A year previous, near the Thistle Hotel, a resident leaned out of his window one morning to have a cigarette and was shocked to see a cat which resembled a lynx, hiding in nearby bushes. The lynx, identifiable by its short bobbed tail and large, tufted ears, was once native to these shores a few thousand years ago.
During the ‘60s many large cats were obtained with ease as pets and released during the ‘70s when the Dangerous Wild Animals Act was introduced. However, sightings from London and the outskirts date back to the 1800s, suggesting that such animals have been lurking in the shadows for longer than we thought.
For more information: www.kentbigcats.blogspot.com
Neil Arnold is an author and lecturer on his research into exotic cats in the UK.