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Rick Minter talks big cats

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Big cat fans were treated to a fascinating talk by environmental consultant Rick Minter.

The event at Sawyer Hall in Nailsworth saw a raft of people attend from big cat believers and sceptics, documentary-makers, landowners, researchers, photographers, wildlife rangers and administrators of social media groups dedicated to big cat sightings, all gathered to see and hear Minter’s big cat evidence.

Entitled Big Cats of Gloucestershire, big cats refers to wild animals you’d typically see in a zoo or featured on a Netflix documentary, like Pumas, Black Leopards and Lynx.

The meeting offered a safe space for participants to share their own big cat encounters, without fear of judgement or ridicule. The audience was invited to complete a short survey gauging attitudes towards big cats. One of the questions which jumped out, should we use big cats to promote tourism’?

Pictures: Faye Hatcher

  • IMG 7686 | Rick Minter talks big cats
  • IMG 7688 | Rick Minter talks big cats
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  • IMG 7695 | Rick Minter talks big cats

Minter presents a popular podcast Big Cat Conversations, where he interviews big cat eyewitnesses from all over the UK.

With more than 100 episodes in the can, the subject has legs. Minter tours up and down the UK attending agricultural shows, opening up conversations with the public about these elusive animals. Minter is intelligent, measured and doesn’t get carried away with sensationalist tabloid newspaper coverage of alleged big cat sightings. Minter featured on Radio 4’s Rambling presented by Clare Balding, who claims she spotted a big cat whilst recording an episode of her radio series.

So why are big cats apparently roaming around the English countryside, and how did they get there? There are several theories. There was a time where big cats were fashionable to keep as pets, but everything changed post-war. Many people struggled with their upkeep and they were released straight into the countryside. In 1976, the Dangerous Wild Animals Act made it illegal to keep exotic animals and again many big cats were turned out into the wild or given away to zoos.

It’s believed there are around 300 wild big cats currently living and breeding in the UK. They’re not reproducing in notable numbers, so it’s unlikely we’ll be overrun by huge populations. Big cats need an area of 20 plus square miles to thrive. Minter estimates there are two females and one male big cat that reside in Tetbury, Cirencester, Stroud and Cheltenham. 

Big cats predate deer, sheep, foxes, rabbits, voles and even wildfowl, and seemingly live harmoniously alongside humans. However, there was a reported incident in 2013, where a young family from Rodborough were out picking blackberries, and crossed paths with a wild big cat. Thankfully nobody was hurt.

There have been numerous big cat sightings in Stroud by reputable and reliable witnesses; nurses, police officers, builders, lorry drivers, vicars, council workers, which begs the question, ‘why would anyone make up such a story?’ During the evening, we heard several compelling eyewitness accounts from Dursley, Selsely, Minchinhampton, Amberley, Nailsworth and Butterow.

It’s a fair assumption that many people struggle to believe big cats live among us. Minter is constantly asked the question, ‘If big cats exist, why hasn’t anyone managed to take a picture of one’? A quick straw poll that night confirmed you’re more likely to see a wild otter in Stroud than a big cat. Big cats are notoriously difficult to catch on camera. We’ve all seen those unsatisfactory grainy images in newspapers and online, which have no sense of scale and lack detail. Minter is meticulous when examining alleged big cat images or videos sent to him, and happy to discount anything that doesn’t quite fit the bill. 

Audience members were shown a mountain of evidence, which Minter believed was the real deal; photos, videos, camera trap footage, thermal imaging, to the more sophisticated, like DNA testing and tooth-pit analysis. Tooth-pit refers skeletal remnants to ascertain the identity of a predator species.  The Royal Agricultural University, just down the road in Cirencester, have been carrying out this groundbreaking research with astonishing results. 

Despite the few sceptics in the room, Minter was mainly preaching to the converted, but by the end of the night, some of the non-believers had turned believer. Minter revealed the results of the feedback form and overwhelmingly, 64 people voted in support of wild big cats to be surveyed, so we may learn more about them. 

You can listen to the podcast Big Cat Conversations at www.bigcatconversations.com 

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