Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Beginning the cat hunt

Back in November I got involved in trying to prove the existence of a (or possibly more) big cat living and killing sheep about 15 minutes down the road from me. A farmer had had about 30 sheep killed within the space of just over a month and he wanted some help in verifying it as a big cat. He had seen it alone more than once, and had seen a pair (one larger than the other) once. A paw print had been found, and by the description he gave me it fits a large cat (possibly puma, possibly leopard). I photographed what I could see of the kills [one photo showing the hole from which the organs were eaten is attached] and went up to the field repeatedly to try and work out what was going on. For a while I was about 60% sure that it was dogs doing the killing, and that a big cat lived in the area.


Then something very interesting happened. In early December I was phoned up by my employer who told me that a big cat had been sighted by 3 people moving across the shooting ground’s (shotgun that is) land! I must add here that this was not a cat walking calmly amongst layouts where clay pigeon shooters stood looking on in disbelief. The cat had walked around the back of the layouts, through a field and onto a small private road where it was seen at a range of only 20 yards by 3 people in a car. Obviously I went up there as fast as I could to talk to the witnesses. They described it as being black, slightly larger than an Alsatian, fairly low to the ground, having a very long tail with a curl at the end and moving in the typical cat’s slink. These would suggest (particularly the tail) that this was a leopard. I had a look around the area, but saw nothing to suggest that there was a cat in the area (well, this was by now 2 hours after the sighting, so no wonder).


Everything was quiet until Saturday, 3 days after the sighting. I discovered a young roe deer (≈15kg) that had been killed [one photo is attached]. Hair (not skin) had been taken off from large patches on its abdomen, revealing the pale skin beneath. The hair was lying all around the deer, either in little clumps or as single hairs. This was especially interesting, as the body was still warm. Actually, it was more than warm; it was pretty much normal skin temperature. It would seem that I had disturbed the killer from eating its meal by roaring down the track on the quad bike (I actually get pair to drive a quad all day!). Footprints were abound around the mud next to the kill (these later turned out to be dog; verified by Richard Freeman).


I did not expect to have a big cat sat about 5 minutes from my house killing our prized deer! I say prized, rather, the 3 deer who lived partly on the shooting ground’s land had become used to us in the workforce and were not too bothered about us being near them. Near that is, compared to normal deer who bolt at the meer sniff of you. After chatting to a few people, it appeared that the cat had been pushed through from the area that it used to be in by the local fox hunt who by chance had swept through its territory pushing the cat in front of it. When the hunt stopped just after reaching the shooting ground the cat carried on and set up temporary residence in the woods one KM from the shooting ground.
This takes us up to December, I’ll update again soon to bring this straight up to January. That is, if I’m not killed by my exams.

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