'Chasing Shadows: Britain's Big Cat Mystery' Aims To Prove Wild Cats Exist In The UK

August 06, 2020 6:00 AM ‐ Documentaries

This article is more than two years old and was last updated in April 2022.

Big Cats Of Britain
Is the British countryside home to leopards and pumas? A new documentary aims to find out once and for all if there's any truth behind the legend of wild big cats roaming the UK.

'Chasing Shadows: Britain's Big Cat Mystery', is a documentary film made by Mike Coggan and his video production company, Grizzly. It serves as a follow-up to the studio's 10 minute documentary about the legend of big cats that they created last year. The previous film was inconclusive, and this time they want answers.

The legend of big cats is nothing new. Of course we've all heard of the Beast of Bodmin Moor and the Beast of Exmoor, which both date back to the early 1970s. Despite the fact that not a scrap of solid evidence of their existence has ever been produced, there has been thousands of sightings of big black cats reported over the years.
The Beast Of Bodmin Moor

Recent reports include sightings across Exmoor National Park and Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, plus the New Forest, where one witness saw what looked like a panther with a deer in its mouth. There's also been multiple eyewitness accounts of a big black cat around Bournemouth airport in recent years.

Grizzly, mostly produce commercial content, but in their downtime they work on their own projects. 'Big Cats Of Britain' was one such project and was inspired by Mike's own sighting of a big cat. In the original documentary he says, "six or seven years ago I had quite a strange encounter, which I believed at the time was a black leopard."

There's not yet a release date for the new follow up documentary, but the team at Grizzly have recently dropped a trailer for the project.

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Viewers were left divided after the last film, some were convinced that these big cats must exist, but others wrote it all off as misidentification, people's imagination or bad photographic evidence. At the time, Mike said, "there is no surprise that there isn't any crystal-clear footage or photographs around considering how brief the encounters are that people have with them and also considering just how adaptable and how elusive the animals are."

Although the idea of wild cats roaming the countryside might seem fanciful, it is plausible that these big cats could be out there. The original 10-minute documentary explored big cats' secretive nature at Exmoor Zoo. Carnivore keeper, Derek Gibson, told the filmmakers, that big cats are "creatures of the shadows. Stay very quiet, very calm, wait for food, whack, back into the shadows."

But, if they're out there, why are there no human casualties? Derek, who's witnessed a big cat in the wild himself, explains "they will look for an easy target, what do we have? Rabbit, we have pheasant, we have deer, we have sheep, we have goat. That is the target. They would rather eat a couple of rabbits a day than go and tackle something which could actually hurt them, because being a predator if they're injured they're no longer a predator because they can't then go out and hunt for themselves."
The Beast Of Exmoor

It may sound hard to believe, but ask some locals and they'd say the existence of a beast on Exmoor isn't even disputed. However with so little evidence to back up their existence, are these big cats more supernatural or natural?

The leading theory by big cat researchers is that the big cats are exotic animals like pumas, lynx and leopards that have been released into the wild. In the 1900s it was legal to own these sorts of animals as pets, even shops like Harrods sold big cats along with baby elephants, alligators, and other exotic animals.

It was eventually made illegal to keep a big cat as a pet without a license in 1976 when the government introduced the Dangerous Wild Animals Act. Rather than comply with the law and apply for a license, many owners simply released their animals into the wild. Most of these animals will have died out or been re-captured, but since leopards, pumas and lynx are such adaptable animals, they are believed to have thrived in the wilds of the British countryside.

So, next time you're driving across a moor or rambling through a forest, keep your eyes peeled and your camera ready.

'Chasing Shadows: Britain's Big Cat Mystery' is due for release soon. Until then, you can watch Grizzly's previous documentary on big cats below...

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