Wow! News travels fast. A colleague of mine at the Southwark News in London contacted me recently after a man walking his dog had an interesting encounter on March 16th 2009 which read as follows:
“Just walking my two dogs late this evening (at Peckham Rye) when one of them started acting strangely near the back of the garden area. Then something came out of the shrubs and started to walk across the path into the picnic area. At first I thought it was a fox, then realised it was actually bigger than my dog, which is a young Labrador. Its tail was long and thin, curling up over its back and it had sandy-coloured fur with a leopard patching. It dawned on me that this was some kind of wild cat, then seconds later a second one, smaller, appeared alongside it and they both turned and headed up the path towards the wooded area.”
I was naturally intrigued about the sighting as I have covered much of London and the south-east for many years, but what mystified me, and also made me giggle more than anything was how my comments in response to the sighting, which I covered on my Saturday Strangeness column for Londonist.com, were picked up by the ‘big cat brigade’, namely Mark Fraser of Big Cats In Britain. I simply stated that I didn’t believe the witness had seen the normal spotted leopards as, in all my years of research across the south, I’d never received any consistent sightings or evidence to suggest such cats were out there. Black leopards, yes. But normal leopards, no. In fact, the witness could well have seen anything from a lynx, as I’ve seen lynx with slender, but not overly long tails, or something smaller such as a serval. I had no reason to believe it had been a pair of leopards. And no further sightings have emerged to suggest so.
The next moment, Cryptomundo website featured my article, and Scotcats (Mr Fraser) was quick to react:
“BCIB archives have several reports of spotted leopards in the UK, and even a picture to boot.”
In my article I also commented that I was the UK’s only full-time researcher into sightings of ‘big cats’ which also touched a raw nerve.
He commented: “I would also assume that people like Di Francis would have a little amusement as not being classed as a full-time big cat researcher here in the UK.”
I found this pettiness a little sad considering only a few months previous I’d written a post speaking of such ‘ner-ner-ner-ner-ner’ attitudes in the world of UK ‘big cat’ research. At the end of the day, to comment on my own research and then be criticised for it kind of shows how silly this has all become. The criticism also emerged on the Big Cats In Britain blog, under the childish headline, ‘Dooh they say no reports of spotted leopards’. Of course, the ‘they’ Mark was referring to was little ol’ me, and then the post began with, “Again we come across an author who claims there are no reports of spotted leopards in the UK.”
The ‘author’ of course being me.(and whilst it was actually nice to be called an author rather than something nasty,) I’d just like to finish by saying, Mark, I actually think it’s good that you’ve constructed the website for people to report sightings nationwide. I also respect Di Francis and her work, if it wasn’t for her books many ‘researchers’ out there wouldn’t be doing what they are today. But considering my opinion on normal leopards in the south was based on my research, and never did I say anything regarding the rest of the UK or your research, it’s crazy how such a detail has irritated you. But then again, I guess that’s what plagues this kind of research, it always has done. It’s going to go on forever. As many groups etc, emerge from the shadows of the mythical British Big Cat Society, it’s clear that it’s Ufology all over again. And proof also that it’s not about the cats, but the catastrophe of petty politics within a field that should be fun. The gloves are off…the anoraks are on.
If anyone has any grievances with me, my mobile number is 07851602853. Surely this can be dealt with by being adults ?