…. the Black Panther ….. and wasn’t he a panther ever so black !
Okay, first things first; you have not seen a black panther running round the streets or fields of the UK, or anywhere else in the world for that matter. Why ? Simply because there is no such animal !
A ‘black panther’ is typically a melanistic colour variant of any of several species of larger cat. In Latin America, wild ‘black panthers’ may be black jaguars (Panthera onca); in Asia and Africa, black leopards (Panthera pardus); in Asia, possibly the very rare black tigers (Panthera tigris); and in North America they may be black jaguars or possibly black cougars (Puma concolor). Melanistic leopards are the most common form of black panther in captivity and they have been selectively bred for decades in the zoo and exotic pet trades. Black leopards are smaller and more lightly built than normally-pigmented individuals. The name ‘panther’ is merely derived from the Latin Panthera, the feline genus which contains lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars.
Right, now that we’ve got that out the way (thank you Wikipedia), what is it you’re reporting seeing running across the road in front of you this evening Sir ???? and would you mind blowing into this little machine please !
Seriously though, every now and again we get a report from a member of the public that they’ve seen what they loosely describe as a puma, a panther or otherwise a ‘bloody big cat’ jumping across a (normally deserted country) road in front of them – we had another one this evening. Some of these reports we can easily discount as a feeble excuse for crashing the car, the effects of excess alcohol or sheer madness, but some of the reports, like the one tonight, come from reputable sources who are genuinely concerned, have no axe to grind, and have clearly witnessed something out of the ordinary and genuinely concerning.
Tonight’s report came form a Paramedic on his way home from a day shift at the local Ambulance Station; certainly a witness we would have faith in and one I’d like to think wouldn’t be making this up for the attention. In this instance, the chap was driving home down a country lane when he came across the said creature in the middle of the road, happily chomping away at some form of roadkill upon which it has stumbled (or created for itself). The animal had been caught in the glare of the informants car headlights for a number of seconds before bolting off through a nearby hedge, never to be seen again.
Given the reliability of the witness, and the fact it was a slow evening, myself and my oppo Big Pete decided to venture out into the wilds and see what we could come across. We weren’t expecting to come face to face with Larry the Leopard so we decided we’d be safe without the team bazooka. I do remember seeing on the news many years ago, some CCTV footage from a factory somewhere in the Midlands I think, where there’d been a number of big cat sightings which had all been discounted, then the CCTV camera at the factory had clearly captured mummy and daddy puma and their little puma cubs (or whatever they’re called) walking in a line past the front of the factory at night, all in full view of the cameras. A bit hard to deny after that. I did a quick hunt on Google so that I could put a link on here but couldn’t find anything – if anyone can supply the link please send it to me via the contact page and I will update.
What Pete and I weren’t expecting was to trundle up to the point on the lane where the ambulance guy had said he’d seen the creature and find a half eaten lamb on the side of the road with some pretty nasty looking bite marks on it – this was not a fox I thought to myself. What un-nerved me a bit more was that a few years back myself, Mrs Chaos and the Chaos kids had been visiting friends on their farm in Devon when they’d had an attack on their livestock. The vet had been out to repair the damage on a couple of ewes but had had to destroy a couple more due to injury. He was adamant then that the injuries had indeed been caused by a big cat.
So, are there hoards of wild big cats roaming around our countryside, going undetected by farmers, landowners, and the ever increasing number of leisure users that find themselves in the wilds of our green and pleasant land. The short answer is I don’t know …. but it would be fairly feasible …. I think. Or it certainly would have been 20 or 30 years ago. If you were not aware, prior to 1976 you could keep just about anything as a pet, and certain well-known department stores used to sell just about anything, up to and including lion cubs !!! – see the documentary Christian – the Lion Cub from Harrods for a start.
After the introduction of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976, people were forced to get rid of their leopards, monkeys, wolves and god knows what else was living in their spare rooms; most passed the animals onto zoos and safari parks but some just simply let them go ….. outside ….. into the British countryside. Some of these animals would have perished, not being native and all that, but clearly some survived – and this will undoubtedly be where the ‘panther sightings’ came from. The question now is will they have been able to survive, encounter similar species, breed and remain relatively unnoticed ??
Anyway, even after much munching around in the darkness we couldn’t find it or any trace of where it had gone, whatever it was. It was probably sat up a tree at the time, either laughing at us or deciding which one of us would make the best dessert. Much to our disappointment we were redirected to (another) domestic at 83 Primrose Gardens so our hunt for mega-moggie would have to take a back seat for a while. But we’d be back ……
…… And in not too many weeks, we’ll get another call from a reliable witness who’s seen another big cat, so to pinch a phrase from Mulder and Scully, something is out there …..