First there was the Surrey puma, and then there was the Shooters Hill Cheetah. The millennium brought us the Beast of Bexley, and now almost every borough seems to have its own salivating, Baskerville-esque so-called “beast”.
This week has seen the second sighting in as many weeks of the Beast of Ongar, described as being “about the size of a Labrador”, “like a Panther”, and definitely “not a little tabby cat”. However, as Londonist suggested some weeks back these terrors of the cat-flap, are not, as their name suggests, Buffy-style creatures from the underworld, but simply exotic pets who have been put out for good as an unintentional consequence of the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act.
Like London’s parrot and terrapin population today, the presence of these animals is the legacy of irresposible exotic pet ownership. Generally it is thought that these animals live on pigeons, foxes, rabbits, livestock, and other small animals.
Neil Arnold of Kent Big Cat Research says that despite media hysteria and scepticism there really is no mystery or doubt about the existence of these animals. He also says that they should be protected, and present no danger to humans.
As the old adage maintains, no matter how frightening it might be to see a leopard when you are putting out the bins, the chances are that he is more scared of you than you are of him (which is probably quite a lot). The same, unfortunately, is probably not the case for your pets.
Map: Pinpoints are representative locations within the demarkated area where large cats have been reported on several occasions.