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Welsh Government reveals how they investigate big cat sightings

Welsh government puma investigations
From top-left: Mark Drakeford, Lesley Griffiths and Rob Roberts

Thanks to Conservative MP Rob Roberts, the Welsh Government have confirmed they will take big cat sightings seriously and investigate them thoroughly – and set out when such incidents should be reported to the police.

Rob, elected MP for Delyn in 2016 and his team contacted the Welsh Labour government to raise the issue of the recent sightings in North Wales, and to determine what action, if any, is being taken to address residents’ concerns.

When the presence of big cats is suspected, Welsh Government officials not only examine video footage but also visit the location of sightings, where they take casts of paw prints and even collect livestock carcasses for a post mortem examination.

Once evidence gathering is complete, officials consult with a multitude of experts, including researchers at zoos and universities and the Animal and Plant Health Agency.

Rob Roberts is the MP for Delyn (Mold, Holywell, Flint etc), wrote to the Welsh Environment Minister, Labour’s Lesley Griffiths (also the Senedd member for Wrexham), who confirmed: “The Welsh Government’s policy is to investigate any reports received by the Department for Economy, Skills and Natural Resources of alleged sightings and attacks by big cats on livestock in Wales.”

“Alleged sightings reported to the Welsh Government are taken seriously and investigated
thoroughly. If hard evidence is provided, my officials from the Wildlife Team carry out site
visits, collect livestock carcasses for post mortem, assess video footage, take casts of paw
prints and investigate any other evidence indicating the possible presence of big cats.”

Welsh Government letter
Click to view full size

Unfortunately, this process has not yet been able to conclusively prove the presence of big cats in Wales – though it was confirmed none of the recent sightings have been reported to the Welsh Government.

Big cat encounters will be investigated when reported to the Department for Economy, Skills and Natural Resources.

Additionally, the Minister confirmed that big cats should be reported directly to the police when it’s believed there is a threat to human life.

We’ve added this information to our own reporting process to advise anyone informing us of a sighting of the additional options available.

When big cats were banned as pets in the 1970s, it was legal to release them into the countryside to avoid expensive rehoming costs. Owners from across the UK travelled to areas like Wales to release their cats in the remote environment, where small but significant populations have thrived ever since.

Earlier this month, Bellingcat exposed an international exotic pet trafficking operation, in which Instagram celebrities posted videos with animals including monkeys, sloths and a range of big cats, including baby tigers, cheetahs, lions and pumas. The animals were sold to buyers around the world from a base in Dubai.

Also this month, a London man was fined after neighbours spotted he was keeping an African wildcat at his home. He purchased the animal from an unlicensed Russian company. The man had previously been reported to authorities but had told them he didn’t own the animal before eventually being caught red handed.

It’s likely that many illegal owners in similar situations would release such animals into the British countryside. This prevalent underground trade, now fuelled by Instagram and social media, could be big a big part of explaining why so many big cat sightings are now being reported.

Big cats such as pumas are solitary with a hunting range of dozens of miles. They’re mostly spotted in Snowdonia and the Clwydian hills but reports of sightings in urban locations some distance from these areas are becoming more frequent.

Dozens of sightings have occurred in Flintshire since the summer, with many happening on Halkyn Mountain or near Pontybodkin – both just a few miles either side of Mold. Big cats have also been reported in Connah’s Quay.

As seen with Llandundo’s now-famous goats, who have taken to roaming the town’s deserted streets during the coronavirus lockdowns, it’s likely that the reduced levels of human activity over the last year is encouraging big cats to roam further from the hills into more populated areas.

Image credits:
Rob Roberts MP by David Woolfall under CC BY 3.0
Black cat image by Steve Wilson under CC-BY-2.0.

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