Big cats in Sussex topic splits opinion

Mystery skeleton found near Worthing.
Mystery skeleton found near Worthing.

FOGGY folklore or elusive reality – whatever the truth is, it is clear the existence of big cats in Sussex divides opinion.

Last week, a dog walker’s grim find of a partial skeleton in a field near Worthing prompted one expert to suggest a big cat was on the prowl.

A black leopard. Picture by Neil Arnold,

A black leopard. Picture by Neil Arnold,

While consensus on the mystery find suggested it was likely to be more canine than feline, the big cat researcher believed the way in which it was found was typical of a large cat kill.

Neil Arnold, who has devoted much of his life to investigating the big cat mystery said sightings in Sussex stretched back centuries, but had become increasingly frequent in the 60s.

He explained: “In the 60s it was relatively common to keep big cats, with many being released after the introduction of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act in 1976.

“There’s no real mystery around it. The majority of big cats today are offspring of these animals.

“People were keeping them like they were terrapins or turtles. They would get bored of them and release them, and they could easily survive in the wild.”

Worthing and District Animal Rescue Service senior rescue officer Billy Elliott is unconvinced of the idea, however.

He said: “I have to say I remain sceptical. I think we would see more signs of carcasses.

“I wouldn’t want to say it was a lot of mumbo jumbo, and I wouldn’t like to question anyone’s integrity, though.”

For the full feature, see the Herald, out Thursday, October 31.