A UK couple say they narrowly avoided hitting a big cat that bolted in front of their car Wednesday morning.
Chris and Marion said they were driving on the A303 in Hampshire, a rural road in southern England surrounded by farmland, fields and wooded stretches, at 7 a.m. when the felid leapt across the road and ran into a nearby field, possibly giving chase to prey. While others suggested it could have been a lynx — which went extinct in the UK more than 1,000 years ago — the witnesses ruled out the possibility, saying the cat was “twice the size of a fox” with a tail that was “thick and solid.”
When they made a Facebook post about the encounter, several others claimed they’ve seen a similar-looking “big cat” moving through Hampshire’s fields. There are several groups dedicated to alleged big cat sightings in the UK on Facebook.
It’s the latest in a surprisingly persistent legend of phantom big cats prowling the British countryside. There are no extant big cats in the UK or in Europe. They exist only on other continents: Lions and leopards in Africa, tigers and leopards in Asia, and jaguars in South America. Among felids that are not true big cats but are often grouped with them, pumas exist only in the Americas and cheetahs are exclusively found in Africa.
Despite that, hundreds of witnesses report seeing feliform animals much larger than well-fed ferals or small wildcats. A similar phenomenon exists in Australia, where for years people have insisted they’ve seen big cats slinking through the bush.
While it’s possible that people in the British countryside or Australian bush are illegally keeping large felids, and it’s possible that a handful could have escaped over the decades, that’s an unlikely explanation for the sightings for several reasons. While big cats are apex predators, animals who have lived in captivity all their lives and have been given food will not know where to go or how to hunt. In places like Texas, where as many as 5,000 tigers live in backyard enclosures, escaped cats are quickly spotted wandering human neighborhoods, confused and looking for food.
If an escaped tiger or leopard was somehow able to rapidly adjust to the English countryside and fend for itself without being spotted, there would be evidence — pug marks, droppings, claw marks denoting territorial boundaries on trees, the carcasses of prey animals, burglarized pens, farm animals missing and terrorized.
That goes double if, as some suggest, there is a breeding population of panthera genus cats. Even a handful of such animals would consume thousands of pounds of meat each week.
Still, as Wednesday’s alleged sighting proves, rumors of large cats stalking the mists of the English countryside are unlikely to die out any time soon.
A Festivus for the Rest of Us…And Our Cats
Festivus is the celebration that keeps on giving.
The operators of Tail Town Cats, a cat cafe in Pasadena, California, are hosting a Festivus get-together that will double as a showcase for adoptable kitties and a way to help support adoption efforts.
Hosted by a cat named Art Vandelay — who found his forever home through the cafe — the celebration will include a traditional Festivus pole, the Airing of Grievances and Feats of Strength. (Among the grievances listed in advance are general disappointment with the frequency of treats, displeasure at sharing litter boxes, and humans who recycle cardboard boxes instead of giving them to the felines.)
People in the Los Angeles area can attend in person, while others can watch online.
Seinfeld fans will recognize Art Vandelay as George Costanza’s most frequently-used alias. Vandelay is alternately described as an importer-exporter or as an architect. As George famously said: “I’ve always wanted to pretend to be an architect.”
As for Festivus, it’s taken on a life of its own 25 years after it was popularized on Seinfeld.
The made-up holiday had its humble origins in the home of writer Daniel O’Keefe, who introduced it to the nation — and immortalized it in the process — by writing it into “The Strike,” a 1997 episode of the sitcom. At the time, Seinfeld was a ratings juggernaut, averaging more than 30 million viewers an episode. Festivus is celebrated annually on Dec. 23.