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(To say nothing of the Bison and Boar!)

NO less than 12 Lions, 14 Tigers and 50 Leopards are being kept by licensed private owners, researchers studying Big Cats in Britain have said.

The 154 assorted non-domestic cats are owned privately, according to figures obtained from local authorities under the Freedom of Information Act. There were also almost 500 assorted Monkeys and 2,000 Ostriches in private ownership as well as more than 250 poisonous snakes and 50 members of the crocodile family.

More than 300 American Bison are also grazing in our countryside - as well as more than 6,000 wild Boar. One boar made the headlines only last week when it attacked a pet dog being walked by its owner. The owner beat the boar off with the dog’s lead.

The Big Cats in Britain (BCIB) research group said it approached 408 local authorities to discover how many of the wild animals were being kept by licensed private keepers. The figures do not include zoo animals.

Under the Dangerous Wild Animal Act 1976, private owners of all animals that are legally deemed to be dangerous are required to annually buy a licence from their local authority.

The authority inspects the owner’s premises, setting standards and confirming that the owner carries third party liability insurance for the animal.

Some smaller cats such as Servals and Leopard Cats are allegedly being kept to hybrid with domestic cats to produce the “designer pet” varieties, researchers said.

Scientific adviser to the BCIB Chris Moiser said it was a “pleasant surprise” to see how many people went to such lengths to keep their animals properly and lawfully.

Mark Fraser, founder of the BCIB Research Group, said: “It is not the responsible legal owners that ‘lose’ their animals, but those that are kept illegally with ill regard and little thought to their welfare.

“More and more exotic animals are being seen in the British countryside today, making it an interesting place to be. In December of 2006 the Dangerous Wild Animals Act was introduced in Northern Ireland, and it will be interesting to see what effect this has.”

And The ABC Sightings Continue...

Meanwhile, sightings of Alien Big Cats (ABCs) continue to be logged across the UK. In the past month there have been four sightings of big cats across North Kent, according to local newspaper reports.

Neil Arnold studies a map of Kent, pinpointing Alien Big Cat sightings.

All were reported to Neil Arnold, the founder of the Kent Big Cat Research Group, which studies eyewitness reports of the exotic creatures.

In the most recent sighting, a man reported how his dog froze at the sight of a black cat in Bean Country Park. According to Mr Arnold, this could be the same black Leopard reported to be prowling around the Bluewater shopping complex, which was recently spotted by a family eating in the food court near McDonalds.

On December 4 and 8, drivers reported seeing a big black cat crossing the road near Dartford Heath at around 2am.

Neil believes this creature is a black Leopard roaming across its territory. Other ABC sightings in the area have included a fawn-coloured Puma seen near Bluewater and a Lynx in Gravesend, On 10 December, a couple reported an animal that had climbed 50ft up a beech tree near their home in Thong Lane, Gravesend.

The creature tried to catch pigeons before dashing down the tree headfirst.

There were four sightings of big cats in Dartford Heath in October and November this year.
Neil, who has been monitoring big cats for 15 years, receives around 280 reports of sightings every year from across the county and says that Kent is a perfect habitat for leopards, because there is plenty of food, water and wooded areas.

He says black leopards and similar animals were popular pets in the 1960s and 1970s, but that the introduction of a licence for such creatures under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 could have meant hundreds were set free. It is possible that some of these cats may have bred in remote locations – several such ABCs are spotted on Dartmoor and Exmoor.

Experts have put several sightings down to Asiatic Jungle Cats (Felis chaus), which are slightly larger than domestic cats and, crucially, genetically similar. It is certain that some Jungle Cats have interbred with feral cats to produce larger than normal hybrids.

Neil Arnold added: “There are so many people seeing these cats all the time. This to me is not very mysterious. It’s very common.”

Chief Reporter