New DNA evidence 'confirms' presence of big cats in the UK
Long-held rumours of big cats living in Britain have been reignited by the results of a DNA test, apparently revealing that strands of black animal hair collected from a barbwire fence belong to a big cat.
Long-held rumours of big cats living in Britain have been inflamed by the results of a DNA test, apparently revealing strands of black animal hair from a barbwire fence belong to a big cat.
The hair was collected following a sheep attack on a farm in Gloucestershire in 2022. A forensic laboratory then analysed it using mitochondrial DNA methods to ascertain a 99.9% match to the leopard species Panthera Pardus.
The investigation in 2017 began when the Gloucestershire farmer found one of his lambs dead. Through social media, documentary filmmaker Matthew Everett got in touch with the farm and came to investigate the site. Everett’s team took swabs and sent them to Warwick University for testing, with no results. However, the jawbone of the sheep, which had toothmarks in, was sent to the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester for analysis. The indentations were confirmed as potentially belonging to the molar and pre-molar of a big cat.
In 2022, the same farmer contacted Everett again to report another sheep attack.
“It was a large lamb this time, at least 35 or 40 kilos,” says Everett. “There were what looked like two canine puncture marks on the skin. At the time we thought well it could just be dog worrying, we weren’t really sure. There was wool sprawled across the ground, as though some sort of struggle had taken place.
“We checked the perimeter for access points, and there wasn’t any. But there was a wall that was very high where something could have jumped down quite easily. And that’s when we saw the wool and hair on the barbed wire fence.”
This time, the team recovered the clumps of hair and sent them to a laboratory for Mitochondrial DNA analysis. They were found to be a 99.9% match to the leopard Panthera Pardus.
The laboratory has requested to remain anonymous.
It is not the first time black cats have been suspected of living in Gloucestershire. Footage of a large black animal has been previously captured a few miles away from where the sheep attack took place.
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Everett’s forthcoming documentary Panthera Britannia Declassified will investigate claims of big cat sightings throughout Britain.
“It's taken five years for the production team to find such evidence and film its journey from collection to analysis,” he has said.
“There is a great deal of ‘secondary evidence’ for these cats, such as consistent witness reports, but hard evidence like DNA is hard to get, so the contribution from this documentary is very helpful.”
Everett’s production company Dragonfly Films is currently pursuing broadcasting options, however an earlier version of the film is available on Amazon Prime, Apple TV and Vimeo.
Main image: Black leopards (Panthera Pardus) may be present in the UK countryside. @Getty
Tanya Jackson is a digital editor and writer for countryfile.com. She lives in Wiltshire and loves campfire cooking, swimming in the sea, rural folklore, barn owls and walking her Welsh collie in the misty hills. Tanya also has a passion for English food and drink – although nothing tastes as good as tomato soup out of a thermos on a crisp woodland walk.
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