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Britain’s (Historical) Alien Big Cats

For decades, reports have surfaced all across the British Isles of sightings of what have become known as “Alien Big Cats,” or ABCs. Ascertaining where, exactly, the creatures come from is an issue that has, in many ways, polarized the ABC research community into various camps. And, it scarcely needs saying, the debate has sometimes reached near-inflammatory proportions!

There are those researchers who believe the cats to be escapees from private menageries. Others suggests such animals were secretly let loose into the wild in the 1970s, when the British Government altered the legislation concerning the keeping of large, and potentially dangerous, cats. So the theory goes, the ABCs roaming Britain today are the descendants of the descendants (and so on) of the original 1970s-era cats. Then there is the theory that the mysterious beasts have paranormal origins. But, there is something else, too.

One very important issue that does not always get the attention it most assuredly deserves, is the fact that such reports of the ABC variety do not just date from relatively recent times – such as the last forty years or so. Certainly, there are far more than a few Alien Big Cat reports on file that date back centuries. This provokes a fascinating – but undeniably controversial – theory: that there is nothing new, at all, about Britain’s large and out of place cats.


Is it possible that the ABC phenomenon is not a modern day one, as many believe, but actually an old one? Maybe even a very old one? Just perhaps, the British Isles has had large cats in its midst for an astonishingly long time. All of this brings me to a certain incident that occurred in central England way back in the 16th Century.

Only nine miles from the fringes of the paranormal-soaked Cannock Chase woods, and specifically near the town of Brewood, stands Chillington Hall. The present hall is actually the third one: a castle was built on the site in the 12th century, while today’s hall was constructed in 1724. It is, however, the second Chillington Hall that specifically concerns us right now.

It was at Chillington Hall, in the 1500s, that one of the first private zoos was established – by a nobleman named Sir John Giffard. According to local legend, on one fateful day, Sir John’s favorite animal, a fully-grown leopard no less, escaped from the confines of its enclosure and charged headlong into the wilds of the surrounding Staffordshire countryside.

Arming himself with a cross-bow, Sir John, along with his son, quickly set off in hot pursuit of the marauding animal. To their complete horror, father and son found the animal poised to attack a terror-stricken mother and her child who were cowering on the ground.

In an instant, according to the old story at least, Sir John drew his bow and took careful and quick aim. At that very same moment, his son cried out: “Prenez haliene, tirez fort!” or: “Breathe deep, pull hard!” Sir John sensibly, and rapidly, took his son’s advice and fired. With but just one shot, the leopard fell to the floor, utterly stone dead.

Giffard’s Cross – which still stands to this day – was raised where the creature is reputed to have taken its very last breath. Sir John, meanwhile, decided it might be a very good idea to adopt his son’s words as the family’s motto.


Of course, if one large, exotic cat was roaming the wilds of the British Isles as far back as the 1500s (albeit admittedly briefly), then who knows how many other possible escapees there might well have been that weren’t cut down by the power of Sir John’s cross-bow?

It is a sobering thought that there may possibly have been significant numbers of large, wild cats living stealthily in the woods and forests of Britain more than five hundred years ago – and perhaps even reproducing and thriving, too. Perhaps the mystery of the nation’s big cats is a far, far older one than we generally give it credit for.

Indeed, that Britain’s ABCs have gained major prominence in the last few decades or so does not mean that they amount to a relatively new phenomenon. It might be far more accurate to suggest they have become a relatively newly-appreciated phenomenon.  As incredible as all of this might sound, such animals may have been hiding in the woods, the fields, and the forests since time immemorial.

Due to the inevitable passage and fog of time, definitively proving for how long Alien Big Cats have really roamed Britain is going to become a more and more difficult task. If the answers do surface, however, I strongly suspect they will place the entire ABC puzzle in a whole new light. A presumed modern day mystery may not be quite so modern, after all…

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  • Paul Anthony Paterson

    For a good explanation of the “Fen Tiger” and other alleged sightings have a read at Linton Zoo’s page:

    “In 1976 the Dangerous Wild Animals Act (official website) was introduced in the United Kingdom, back then it was highly fashionable to keep exotic pets often the more dangerous species. The frequency of which was seen as a risk to the public and questions were being raised about the welfare of the animals, as well as hybrids becoming more frequent between wild and domestic species such as Bengals and Ocicats.

    The purpose of the Act was to ensure that when private individuals keep dangerous wild animals they do so in circumstances which do not create risk to the public and safeguard the welfare of the animals. Keeping such animals without a licence became unlawful and the strict guidelines were set as to where and how the animal is to be kept. The law also requires keepers to have their animals covered by a satisfactory liability insurance policy. Many species are covered in the act including many primates, large or venomous reptiles, dangerous spiders and scorpions and of course big cats and other carnivores.

    The introduction of this act meant that many people who had animals included in the Dangerous Wild Animals Act were unable to keep their animals so had to seek new homes for them or face serious charges. This led to many animals being donated to zoos, moved out of the country, killed or in some cases just released into the wild – which of course is where we get some of the argument about big cats in the wild.

    It is quite possible that some big cats were allowed to roam free in the countryside, however, this was 34 years ago. No cat however big or well looked after lives more than around 20 years, in the wild you’d expect somewhere around 12 to 14 years old.

    Which leads many people onto the argument that the newly wild animals could have met others that were released, mated and have since started several generations of big cats. Anyone who has any experience of working with animals, especially big cats can tell you that there is much more to it than putting a male and a female together and bingo you get babies. Even within international breeding programmes where only small populations of animals are available for breeding and these programmes are run by extremely experienced and knowledgeable people there is potential for problems to occur. Inbreeding from small populations of some cat species can lead to gross deformities and infertility. The sheer number of animals that you would need in the wild to be able to viably keep a health population going, means that we probably should be seeing these animals or at least regular signs of them all over the place by now. One thing to consider is why the hunts and shoot beaters have not flushed out cubs (which are not streetwise) or adults from the safety of their cover.” (Linton Zoo)

    “A spokeswoman said: “None of the sightings of big cats have ever been confirmed and the evidence of all the sightings we have been asked to look at has either been unsubstantiated or has been attributed to other causes. From time to time big cats do escape from zoos or other collections and are usually recaptured very quickly. We are confident that there is no breeding population of big cats in this country.” (Natural England)

    The idea of leopards still living in Europe is very powerful. Every year a new and ferocious creature turns up in England, one that exists only in newspaper columns, vividly imprecise eyewitness reports blurry photographs of black puddyy cats and our eternal appetite for monsters: the Beast of Bodmin, the Surrey Puma, the Fen Tiger” Simon Barnes of the Times No “big cats” in the wilds and breeding in the UK And No there is no evidence to show that the UK has big cats.

    But there’s the key word – imaginary. Is this big cat real or is it an illusion? The blurred photograph (why so shaky, was it fear or fake fear?) reveals what genre this picture belongs to. It’s summer and the monster animal snaps are here. Remarkably, the warm summer has not yet produced any sightings of great white sharks off Cornwall or kraken near Anglesey, but here’s an animal mystery to spice up those country walks. Beware the possible puma!

    Zooform , no such word…Cryptozoology concerns itself with unknown species for which there are “myths” and with supposedly-extinct species. Strictly-speaking, a species that is simply unknown is not cryptozoological. Cryptozoology” is that it is not a legitimate field of science. Any idiot can call himself a cryptozoologist as if it means something important and it does not. A zoologist is a legitimate title, as is geologist, biologist, etc. Cryptozoologist means nothing.