Sightings of big cats and strange animals in Berkshire

PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 April 2020

sKrisda/Getty Images/iStockphoto

sKrisda/Getty Images/iStockphoto

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The echoing bellow of a lion can be heard for miles; the baying of wolves is a warning to all and the screams of chimpanzees let you know that you might just be about to interrupt a family dispute. You would never hear those sounds in Berkshire though – or would you?

There are a number of small animal and bird gardens dotted around the county but not since the days of Windsor Safari Park has there been a large zoological collection in Berkshire, so that rules out escapees among the alleged big cat sightings that have been recorded for several decades, doesn’t it? Not entirely.

Back in the 1970s the laws on keeping wild animals – or exotic pets, as they are also known – changed dramatically. Almost overnight lions, tigers, pumas, leopards, bears and all kinds of other creatures were being donated to zoos.

On a personal note, since I was involved with wild animal collections as well as being a writer, I was once asked if I could house a tiger, which was a pet on a housing development in Northampton.

When I arrived I expected to be shown to an enclosure in the garden, but instead, a young but full-grown male tiger came bounding into the kitchen. Make no mistake, all big cats are dangerous and especially hand-raised ones. As they get older they want to make their challenge for supremacy and they are so used to having mankind in close contact that they have no second thought about whether or not it is wise to attack.

All that was a long time ago, of course, but some people did not donate their ‘pets’, they simply took them to what they considered to be a remote spot and let them go! Could any of those animals still be alive? Probably not. So what about the big cat sightings that are still reported today?

In the Shinfield area near Reading, Naithan Laidlaw is convinced he saw what appeared to be a puma. That was in June 2018, just a few months after Laurence Anderson also reported seeing a big cat in Burghfield, not too far away. However, there is no photographic or other evidence to prove or disprove these or the many other sightings, and nobody is on record as having seen any big cat babies or corpses. Other reports of big cats and bears have turned out to be very large domestic cats or big dogs.

So is that the end of it? No, not quite. Animal smuggling is rife around the world and Britain is no exception. There have been cases of pumas, lion and tiger cubs and cheetahs being discovered. There are also those that have not been discovered. They are often sold to someone with a yearning for such animals. They then learn that they cannot manage their pet and since they have it illegally, they feel that their only option is to find somewhere not too close to people, but possibly where there might be food and shelter, and release the creature.

These animals can travel far and not be seen except for an occasional glimpse by someone who is shocked and ill-prepared to take a photo.

The moral of the story is that next time someone tells you that they have seen a big cat in Berkshire, don’t laugh – it might be behind you!

Parrakeets are quite common in Britain these days and Berkshire is no exception. Although most are from Australia, they have escaped, acclimatised and colonised all through the southern counties. They have definitely been 
seen in Berkshire and add an extra bit of colour to the skies although they can be a bit destructive like most parrots.

A few years ago a famly in Finchampstead woke up to find four peafowl in their garden. They had obviously wandered away from a collection somewhere but it was a novelty and when the male birds show off their incredible tails you cannot resist reaching for the camera or getting a little closer. Don’t be fooled – peacocks can jump pretty high and they are armed with claws and a beak. Keep your distance, take your photo and reach for the phone!

On the Isle of Wight there is a colony of gerbils that started when a few surplus pets were released into the wild. That doesn’t appear to have happened in Berkshire, but there have been sightings of racoons, wallabies, wild boar and even lemurs, which have escaped from collections and found their perfect homes in the forests and parklands of this beautiful county. You can’t really blame them, can you?

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