Wednesday, August 28, 2013


You can tell it's what we in the journalistic profession call the "Silly Season" when newspapers start filling up with people who claim they've seen leopards, lynx and lions in the wilds of the British countryside.

Now, I know a thing or two about big cat sightings, having come face-to-face with the Fleet Panther, which was – of course- nothing but my neighbour's cat that looks like Hitler, caught in just the right kind of lighting conditions to make it look enormous.

As humans, we hate to admit that we're not perfect, and summer evenings and early mornings always bring a spate of these big cat sightings where our brain has tried – and failed – to make sense the evidence laid before it. That evidence being a normal sized cat in such light that eyes and brain have worked together, got perspective entirely wrong, and produced the illusion of enormous size in a domestic moggy.

So, we've got – in little over a couple of weeks:

Big cat seen in Derbyshire (photos on smartphone show normal-sized cat scratching a tree that is far smaller than you think)

Big cat seen in the West Country (photo could be anything. up to and including Miley Cyrus twerking Robin Thicke's groinal area)

Big cat glimpsed in Kent (stock photo of AN ACTUAL LEOPARD)

And the money shot:

...until you take a look at the photo, and the big cat is actually a normal-sized cat wondering why it's being photographed by a bunch of blokes wielding golf clubs for their own safety. 

Witnesses are usually very sure of the evidence of their eyes, and will swear blind there's a lion on the loose somewhere in Essex.

However, there are also people for whom fantastic claims always seem to be true, and will swear blind that the moggy pictured above is a leopard. A leopard called Tiddles, who likes his place on top of the radiator and eats Whiskas. Some of these people are very earnest in their convictions, and are the kind of person who thinks every ripple on the surface of a large Scottish loch is caused by an enormous lizard. Even the briefest amount of analysis disproves their claims.

But, if they are always so patently ridiculous, why do these stories still appear in local newspapers?

Simple: They've got 32 pages to fill, advertisers to please, and a confused local with grainy mobile phone pictures and a story to tell are an easy win.

Silly season indeed.  

For a more forensic and level-headed exploration into the phenomenon, I point you towards Hayley Stevens, one of our finest skeptical researchers.


Alicia Foodycat said...

My cat is a Maine Coon like that Eastbourne leopard there. It's the tiny squeaky miaow that sends people running in fear.

Anonymous said...

People in Essex actually swear blonde
188 ispoked <--- almost a social comment

Dave said...

Ha! I say Ha! Ha! is what I say. Then explain why there are no giant monster sheep sightings. Or, for that matter, no "pigeon the size of a Land Rover, as God is my witness".

NYK in Frugaldom said...

I live in Dumfries & Galloway area and we hear these stories all the time. I know five 'sensible' people who swear blind they've seen the evidence but then this is the county that lost Red Pandas and now has a Kookaburra living on a caravan site at Lock Ken, so I guess anything is possible when the sun shines in Scotland. :)

Scarlett said...

Haha that first picture is ridiculous. I swear there used to be a Lynx where I worked, either that or a really fat, fancy housecat x