Big cat expert Rick Minter insists the Stroud valleys boasts compelling evidence as a rich habitat for big cats after DNA from a black hair caught on a barbed wire fence following a sheep attack has offered “definitive proof” of the big cats’ existence.
The hair was recovered from a farm in Gloucestershire where there had been some “unusual predatory” activity. And video footage of a large black animal captured only a few miles away from the sample was enough to raise suspicion.
Forensic scientists at a top laboratory have now confirmed that the hair matches the DNA of a big cat species with a 99% match.
“People report what appear to be black leopards in Gloucestershire and beyond, so it is no surprise to have a leopard DNA result from black hair in the county,” admitted big cat expert Rick, who also runs a big cat podcast, click HERE.
Rick added: “Those of us who investigate the subject receive many more reports from people than ever get in the press.
“Informants use words like fit, healthy, muscular, sleek, and confident, when describing these cats. This suggests the cats know their place, they have grown up here. They are not disorientated and feeling their way, as they would be if fresh out of captivity.
“It is not just people that see or sense a big cat, but dogs and horses react as well. This also explains why people can’t get a photo on their phone camera – sorting their dog or horse is their first concern.
“It takes most witnesses many seconds to process what they are seeing, ruling out a black dog or other candidate, and once they’ve realised it’s a big cat, it’s mostly too late to activate their phone. Try taking a photo of a fox at middle distance at dawn or dusk anyway, to see the challenge of filming wildlife.
“Black leopards are also referred to as black panthers, and two parents will breed on black. Fresh, clinically devoured deer carcasses are a potential sign of the cats. And similar fox and occasional badger carcasses also get found by people in the area.
“Black leopards are generalists – they can survive and adapt in a wide range of environments. As ambush predators they are stealthy, rushing at their prey from short distances. The shrubby margins of woods, commons and pasture are ideal for them, to watch out for the wandering deer. The vantage points and the acoustics of the hollows and curved hillsides of the Stroud valleys might suit them well.
“Leopards are furtive. They are wary of people. In their native lands people might occasionally confront a leopard when guarding their goats at night, and their dog might be eyed up by a leopard. Here our lifestyles are very different – we can check our grounds and gardens with powerful spotlights, so we would spot eye shine. We secure our dogs at night, and any big cat around is unlikely to be hungry or stressed, given the natural food and water available at every turn.
“These solitary cats can lay-up in places like thick bramble scrub, under fallen trees, in derelict buildings, under dumped vehicles, or up thickly branched trees. They have sharp hearing and swift movement, helping to stay out of our way. Territories may be quite loose in Britain, and perhaps 20 square miles for a female and more for a male. Like any cat, they rest and conserve energy for most of their time.
“In the Stroud Valleys at any one time, I suspect we are living alongside the odd big cat, like a black leopard, with one or two having a territory which includes the area, and sometimes one or two passing through, especially males that encompass female ranges. Tan coloured mountain lions are also reported – they are almost a counterfeit of a leopard, in their size, behaviour and stealth.
“Locally we are gearing ourselves up to study the topic – we have the Royal Agricultural University, examining some of the potential evidence on bones of likely prey, there are Facebook groups to discuss sightings.
“The national podcast, Big Cat Conversations, regularly hears from witnesses and investigators in Gloucestershire.
“Recent instalments from near Stroud are episode 90, Tails from the Stroud Valleys, and 83, Big Cat Nature Ramble. In episode 41 we hear a local witness as she and her dogs watched a black panther (a likely black leopard) corner a fox at dusk – her dogs disturbed the predating cat, and the fox emerged from the encounter, trotting away alongside her for safe haven. So these sorts of events are sometimes happening, largely out of sight, in our own backyard.
“These cats have learnt about us – perhaps we should try and learn more about them.”
The tooth pit analysis conducted at the Royal Agricultural University suggests that the relatively large carnivores that fed on the sheep carcass found at the same farm as the DNA result much prefer natural game.
Matthew Everett, from Dragonfly Films, said: “The DNA was from hairs caught on a barbwire fence where there had been some unusual predatory activity.
“It’s taken five years for the production team to find such evidence and film its journey from collection to analysis.
“People in Gloucestershire and Britain have described what appear to be black leopards for decades. So, a leopard DNA result from a black hair sample is unsurprising.
“This is not the first such DNA result and is unlikely to be the last.
“There is a great deal of ‘secondary evidence’ for these cats, such as consistent witness reports, but hard evidence like DNA is hard to get, so the contribution from this documentary is very helpful.
“Collecting such evidence from local people, farmers and landowners is essential – Citizen Science like this will hopefully help us learn more about the Bagheera type big cats which may be quietly naturalising here.”
Dragonfly Films is currently looking into broadcast options for the upcoming doc, while an earlier version of the film Panthera Britannia is available on Amazon Prime, Vimeo and Apple TV.
In 1976, the UK introduced the Dangerous Wild Animals Act, which required owners of certain exotic animals to obtain a license and meet strict safety standards. This led to a surge in the number of abandoned or released exotic pets, including big cats, snakes, and primates.
The aftermath of the act’s implementation resulted in the formation of animal sanctuaries and rescue centers, as well as concerns over the welfare and safety of both the exotic animals and the public.
Some of the abandoned animals were able to be rehomed, while others were too dangerous to be domesticated and had to be euthanized. The act continues to be in effect today and has greatly reduced the number of exotic animals kept as pets in the UK.