Big cats UK: What species are there and where have they been spotted?

Big cats have been spotted in the UK from time to time – but which ones might you encounter? (Picture: Getty Images)

We’re used to seeing animals such as foxes and squirrels roaming around our streets – but now it seems that big cat sightings could also be on the rise here.

Recent reports have suggested that the ‘harmless’ felines have been seen scavenging for food in parts of the country – amid suggestions they have become bolder after lockdown.

A man recently described his unusual encounter with a ‘sand-coloured big cat with black stripes and black-tipped ears’ during a short trip away in Devon – but he’s not the only one who has come across a big cat of late.

So, just which big cats are present in the UK – and where have they been seen?

Which big cat species are in the UK?

Officially, the only confirmed big cat species in the UK is the European Wildcat.

According to the Game And Wildlife Conservation Trust, the wildcat is similar to a domestic tabby cat – but is larger, has a stockier build and a bushy, black-banded tail.

The European Wildcat is present in the UK – but only in Scotland (Picture: Getty Images)

The European wildcat used to be prevalent throughout mainland Britain, but populations declined as a result of the persecution of the species, as well as clearing of forest areas where they tend to live.

As a result, the wildcat is only found in parts of Scotland, in regions north of Glasgow and Edinburgh – and you’ll have to get up early or stay out late if you want the chance of seeing one, as they are at their most active at night, mainly dawn and dusk.

They became a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act in 1988, with the Act giving strict legal protection to the species as well as their dens – although wildcats can interbreed with domestic and feral cats, which poses a threat to the purity of the species.

Where have wild cats been spotted in the UK?

Sightings of big cats have increased in recent years (Picture: Getty Images)

As well as the European wildcat, there have been numerous reported sightings of other wild cat breeds in the UK.

These include reports of a wildcat walking through a Cambridge Park in 2020, sightings of a ‘black panther’ in Epping Forest in 2013, the legendary ‘Durham Puma’ back in 2009, and even a ‘big cat’ in the background of a Good Morning Britain item in 2021.

In 2020, a sighting of a big cat in north London sparked a police search to try and track it down.

More recently, there have been increased reports of a number of large felines being seen across Gloucestershire and Somerset.

Frank Tunbridge, who studies big cats, told Gloucestershire Live they are ‘often seen closer to towns and villages’ and the massive deer population in the south-west is their main source of prey.

To view this video please enable JavaScript, and consider upgrading to a web
browser that
supports HTML5

He said: ‘To a large majority of the British public, the thought of big predatory cats similar in description to a black leopard or a puma stalking through our woods and fields is unbelievable.

‘Yet to a witness who has observed one of these elusive and stealthy creatures at close quarters, the experience is unforgettable and it lives with them forever.

‘The whole subject of ‘big cats’ living and thriving within the UK has been rolling on for decades now without a satisfactory conclusion, even though the evidence for their existence is overwhelming.

‘Facts such as confirmed DNA, deer killed and consumed in a certain way and big cat paw marks.’

However, Mr Tunbridge also stressed ‘there can be no doubt’ that over the years these animals have ended up in the wild after they were released or escaped from private collections.

MORE : Cat thinks he’s a dog and is best buds with three Great Danes

MORE : Leopard mauls model and scars her for life in photoshoot gone wrong

Follow Metro across our social channels, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Share your views in the comments below.


Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.