Tag: wildcats

Hilarious News Report Claims ‘Black Pumas’ Are Rampaging Across The UK

Shhhhh!

No one tell NewsCorp that “black pumas” don’t exist, pumas are native to the Americas, leopards are native to Africa and Asia, and a “black panther” is a color morph, not a species of cat.

A story from Fox News — prompted by a similar story in the UK’s Sun, part of the same Rupert Murdoch-owned media conglomerate — claims the British are “unnerved” by an “uptick” in sightings of cryptid big cats. The mysterious creatures are supposedly running rampant in the British countryside and in the suburbs, according to the article, which identifies them as black pumas, black panthers and black leopards.

Oddly, the story says the sightings are up significantly because there have been three “big cat” sightings in October, immediately before informing readers there are 2,000 such sightings in the UK every year.

Little Buddy and I are not exactly known for our math skills, but 2,000 sightings a year works out to 167 sightings per month, which is a lot more than three. Fifty five times more, in fact. So the story should really be about a dramatic dip in phantom big cat sightings, shouldn’t it?

What evidence does the Fox report cite for its breathless claim about big cats taking over the UK? A pair of grainy security camera videos, including one showing a “big cat sighting” at night, and the word of a “big cat sighting expert,” alternately called a “countryside expert” in other media reports, who by the way happens to be hawking a documentary on the sightings.

“It’s a crucial issue,” self-described wildcat expert Rick Minter told The Sun. “How do we come to terms with living alongside big cats in Britain?”

Puma
Pumas, also known as cougars, mountain lions, panthers and catamounts, are native to the Americas. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

For readers unfamiliar with the highest echelons of reputable journalism, The Sun is the UK’s foremost bastion of trustworthy reporting, a tabloid par excellence whose editorial staff are known for breaking stories about “crazed werewolves” and immigrants barbecuing the late queen’s swans when they weren’t running topless photos of models on Page 3. The Sun is owned by NewsCorp, the parent company of Fox News.

As for the two pieces of footage, one is the aforementioned blurry mess recorded by a home security camera at night, and shows a few frames of a cat’s behind and a tail as the felid walks out of the frame. The other is a blurry clip the credulous claim depicts a large cat feeding on a sheep. There’s no indication the figure is a felid of any type.

As far as we’re concerned, there are a few possible explanations for the sightings:

They’re former pets

India the tiger
India the tiger was found wandering the suburbs of Houston in 2021. In this photo, he’s enjoying life in his sanctuary’s large enclosure where he’s got plenty of room, stimulation, toys and even his own rock pool.

If there are indeed big cats roaming the British countryside and suburbs, they would have to be former pets of people who acquired them on the illegal wildlife market, broke the law by “importing” them into the UK, then broke several additional laws by keeping them as pets until the cats quickly grew and the owners realized keeping them is untenable.

Such situations aren’t unheard of, obviously, but they can’t account for a dozen big cats on the loose at any one time, much less more than a thousand as Minter claims.

More importantly, big cats who are taken from their mothers as days-old cubs, sold as pets and later dumped are universally confused, terrified and unable to fend for themselves. They end up roaming suburbia in broad daylight, like a nine-month-old tiger named India who was spotted wandering around the outskirts of Houston in 2021, sniffing out potential food in garbage cans because they don’t know how to hunt.

If these phantom big cats were former pets, they’d be spotted, captured and taken to sanctuaries within a matter of days.

They’re small wildcats formerly native to the area, like the Eurasian lynx

The problem is, the Eurasian lynx was extirpated from the UK about 1,400 years ago. There have been debates among conservationists about reintroducing wild populations to the British countryside — and to Ireland — but no concrete plans as of yet. Proponents say the lynx could be beneficial, keeping deer populations level without major human intervention.

Eurasian lynx adults can grow to about the size of medium dogs, so it’s possible they can be mistaken for “big cats” in blurry video, especially when perspective and/or lack of other objects makes it difficult to place their actual size in context. However, as with big cats, any Eurasian lynx spotted in the UK are likely to be former pets.

They’re housecats

bigkitty
This feral cat, a plain old member of the felis catus species, was repeatedly mistaken for a big cat in western Australia back in 2018.

If witnesses in the UK are mistaking house cats for big cats, they wouldn’t be the first.

Stories abound of little cats prompting “big cat” sightings, from Vancouver (a Savannah cat) to Scranton, Pa. (a missing house cat), to San Jose (a Maine Coon) and even Australia. (A feral cat.)

One wildlife ranger in Australia became so annoyed with fielding frequent big cat reports that he implored people to educate themselves.

“People need to get over the idea the cats are panthers,” wildlife ranger Tim Gilbertson told Australia’s ABC news. “It is just not on. They are big feral cats, at least 50% bigger than a house cat and they are powerful.”

The usual issues are in play here: Fuzzy security camera footage, night sightings, confused witnesses. You’d think there would be more phantom big cat sightings in the US, since pumas can grow to the size of jaguars and could be mistaken for lions, but people who live in areas where pumas range tend to know they’re around and what they look like. They’re also the definition of scaredy cats, reluctant to let humans spot them or get anywhere near them.

Buddy
Frequently mistaken for a tiger: Buddy the Cat.

Ultimately, witness reports count don’t count for much, and not just because memory is malleable.

Thousands of people have reported seeing Bigfoot, chupacabras, the Jersey Devil and the Loch Ness monster, but those creatures are all firmly in cryptid territory.

There’s Occam’s Razor, and there’s common sense: For a primate species like Bigfoot to exist, for example, there would need to be a breeding population, enough prey for the creatures to feed themselves, and someone somewhere would have found remains at some point. (Bigfoot sightings go back to the days before Columbus set foot on New World shores, but it’s only been in the last century or so that the cryptid has entered the popular imagination via folklore and media.)

Likewise, if there are indeed 1,000 big cats prowling the British countryside, as Minter claims, there would be a breeding population, ubiquitous tracks and the remains of prey animals killed in ways consistent with big cat ambush techniques. Cats of all sizes are ambush hunters and have a distinct way of killing prey which is unlike other animals.

The UK’s big cat sightings should be treated more like the UFO sightings in the US and particularly around Area 51. They start with a kernel of potential truth — the existence of a secret base to test experimental military aircraft, or the possibility that big cats who were former pets have been let loose — which leads people to consider the possibility, then when they see something they can’t easily explain, they reach for the exceptional.

But as Carl Sagan famously said, exceptional claims require exceptional proof, and it’s no accident that things like UFOs, cryptid primates and phantom big cats only appear on the grainiest, blurriest and darkest footage.

My money is on domestic cats mistaken for their much larger cousins. Maybe Buddy’s been taking some transatlantic flights under my nose. I’ll have a little chat with him about it and ask him to kindly stop terrifying our friends across the pond.

 

 

 

Finally, Wild Cat ‘Ownership’ Could Be Banned Under The Big Cat Public Safety Act

There are more tigers living in cramped backyards in Texas than there are in the wild.

At roadside zoos, shady people like Joseph Maldonado-Passage, Joe “Exotic” of Tiger King fame, breed big cats like rabbits so they have an endless supply of cubs to steal from their mothers before they’re weaned, pumped full of sedatives, and handed off to tourists who take selfies with them but never stop to consider the welfare of those baby cats or the harm they’re enabling.

And in states like Florida, where “Muh freedoms!” reign supreme over all other values, people can own any wild animals they want, with no real oversight and no mechanisms to ensure they’re doing right by the animals. There’s nothing forcing “exotic” animal “owners” to keep the big cats, monkeys and other mammals in proper enclosures where they have stimulation and — just as importantly — won’t escape and hurt neighbors.

India the tiger Transported to BBR
India the tiger was still just a cub when he was spotted wandering through residential neighborhoods in Texas, where he’d been dumped by his former “owner.” Credit: Humane Society

Thankfully, things could change soon as lawmakers are expected to vote on the Big Cat Public Safety Act, a rare bipartisan effort that would finally make it illegal to keep tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards, cheetahs, pumas and other wildcats privately, whether in homes, businesses or non-accredited “zoos.”

Currently keeping big cats is illegal or severely restricted in most states, but like many things in the US, there’s a confusing patchwork of laws and things that would be unthinkable in other states are perfectly acceptable in places like Texas and Florida.

Because, you know, “muh freedoms.”

Now is a good time to point out that this blog has always been, and will remain, politically agnostic. I have my own political beliefs as any other person does, but PITB is a cat humor, news and advocacy blog, and the only politics we discuss here are those that relate to animal welfare. Equally important, Buddy and I want people of all political persuasions to feel comfortable as readers and commenters on PITB. (Although that could change if one or both political parties suddenly makes a move against the nation’s Strategic Turkey Supply. Then Buddy’s gonna have to get biblical.)

The Big Cat Safety Act is co-sponsored in congress by representatives Mike Quickly, D-IL, and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-PA, and in the senate by senators Susan Collins, R-ME, Tom Carpenter, D-DE, Richard Burr, R-NC, and Richard Blumenthal, D-CT.

It’s endorsed by a wide range of groups, from the National Association of Zoos and Aquariums to the Humane Society and various bar associations. The proposed legislation also has the support of the White House, which released a statement this week urging its passage.

If your congressional representative or your senators aren’t publicly on board with the Big Cat Safety Act, you can make your voice heard via the Humane Society’s site, which allows you to draft and send letters to the offices of your lawmakers.

shallow focus photography of cheetah
Cheetahs, already critically endangered, have been almost entirely wiped out by poachers who sell their cubs on the illegal wildlife market. Credit: Magda Ehlers/Pexels

What Kind Of Cat Is This?

A reader in Alabama sent this image to the Bangor Daily News and asked for help identifying the cat.

Like many other states, Alabama is home to bobcats and cougars, but we can cross them both off the list: The long tail eliminates the possibility of a bobcat, while the coat pattern and build of the cat rules out a puma.

Aside from puma, bobcats and the lynx, almost all other species of wild cat in the western hemisphere are found only in South America.

The cat in the photo is muscular and looks like it’s taking a leisurely stroll, but something in the wooded area has caught its attention. The dipped tail may indicate uncertainty. Its tabby stripes are well-defined but broken, a trait often seen in domestic cats.

Finally, although Bangor says there’s not much to help put the cat’s overall size in context, it’s almost certainly smaller than it looks, judging from the barrel in the background. In fact, if you expand the image and look closely at the barrel, you can see there’s an arched entry cut out of it, and it’s secured to some kind of foundation. Who knows, maybe someone converted it into a small shelter for this cat and other strays.

I took the image, cropped it close, tried to enhance the details as much as possible without ruining the data, and got this:

The mystery cat of Alabama

My verdict: It’s a domestic cat.

The proportions, tail and gait are all consistent with a domestic cat, as is the coat pattern. The cat in the photo doesn’t resemble any local wild cats, and the cat isn’t as large as it may initially appear.

What do you think?

Can You Spot The Cat? Mountain Lion Edition!

This is the real deal, friends. Not a cheesy low-res photo or an intentionally obtuse shot with three pixels of a tail visible.

There’s a cat in this photo — a puma to be exact — and finding it is a good reminder of how awesome these elusive felids are, as well as how well they hide themselves from humans and fellow wildlife alike:

Hidden mountain lion in Nevada
Credit: John Tull, US Fish and Wildlife Service

The photo comes courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Services and eagle-eyed photographer John Tull, who spotted the well-hidden cat in rural Washoe County, Nevada.

Mountain lions are the second-largest cats in the Americas behind jaguars, and although they look like lionesses, they pose little danger to humans. About 15 people have died in conflicts with mountain lions over the past 100 years. Dogs, by contrast, kill between 30 and 50 people a year.

Mountain lions are also known as pumas, cougars, catamounts and panthers, among other names. The word “panther” is a nonspecific word for large cats and is often used in association with jaguars and leopards.

Known scientifically as puma concolor, these mysterious cats are more closely related to small cats (felis) than big cats (panthera), and have the distinction of being the largest cats who can meow.

‘Social Influencer’ Thinks He Saw A Panther…In New Zealand

A New Zealand man says he filmed a “panther” after taking blurry footage of a house cat.

Kyle Mulinder does his best Steve Irwin impression with a breathless “Look at that thing! Amazing!” while zooming in on what looks an awful lot like a domestic cat.

Mulinder continues to provide commentary and generously estimates the cat at “four foot high” as it dashes off a dirt road into a wooded area in New Zealand’s Hanmer Springs Heritage Forest.

Here’s a screenshot of the cat. I wasn’t able to embed the video, so you’ll have to visit the New Zealand Herald to watch it.

Screenshot_2020-11-30 Canterbury mystery Is it a cat or is it a panther - NZ Herald

A handful of New Zealanders have said they’ve seen a large cat since at least this summer, long enough for the local press to dub the cat the Canterbury Panther. Various reports identify the cat as grey, tawny or black.

Mulinder, who calls himself Bare Kiwi online, demonstrated a flair for the dramatic while telling his tale to the Herald.

“It was about 50 metres away, strolling in the other direction but it sat down, turned and looked into my soul,” Mulinder said. “It was a very emotional experience. I was fearing for my life.”

(Insert terrifying Buddy joke here.)

junglebuddy_horizontal

Yolanda van Heezik, a zoologist at New Zealand’s Otago University, said the chances of a big cat on the loose are “extremely unlikely.”

Aside from the lack of convincing footage of the Canterbury Panther, there aren’t any obvious signs of a mountain lion, jaguar or leopard, van Heezik said. Those signs could include scratches from large claws high up in trees, widespread scent-marking and the trail of prey that would be left by a large carnivore.

“No one’s ever caught one, no one’s ever got really good evidence that they are something different from just a large feral cat,” she said earlier this month. “And there’s also a complete lack of evidence that is indirect like if you had a really big cat like that you would expect there to be more stock kills, for example, but we don’t really have that evidence either.”

blackjaguar

Aside from the cat’s small size, there are other obvious reasons why it’s unlikely to be a panther. The word panther can refer to a cougar, also known as a mountain lion or puma. It can also refer to a jaguar or a leopard.

None of those cats are found on New Zealand: Pumas and jaguars are native to the Americas, while leopards exist in Africa and parts of Asia.

Of course it’s possible someone purchased a big cat from the illegal wildlife market and the animal escaped or was let go, but those cases are rare and big cats tend to be the “toys” of the ultra-wealthy. Local authorities have ruled out the possibility of a large cat escaping from any nearby zoo or wildlife facility, according to the Herald.