Big Cats III
By The Ole Hedge Creeper & The Big Cat Man
Its been a little while since I wrote about this Taboo subject, although my articles Big Cats 1 & 2 have been getting massive hits still to this day.
At The Countryman’s Diary Magazine we pride ourselves in our non PC approach and tackling subjects that other magazines or media shy away from, we don’t just dip our toe in the water of a subject, we jump right in the wild pool as all proper country boys do, for how are you supposed to understand a subject then write about it.
I (The Ole Hedge Creeper) am only going to write half of this article, as my good friend Danny Nineham and internationally renowned Big Cat Consultant also famously known as The Big Cat Man will be writing the other half.
Danny is a renowned expert on the subject of Big Cats and not just in the UK either, he is a Countryman of the old school as I am, there is one reason why Danny and I get on so well for we have had almost the same teachings in life fully immersing ourselves in mother nature herself and all that lives under her canopy.
Danny like Myself has also traveled the world learning skills from native people from many countries, from the Native Indian to the African Tracker and all in between, one thing I know we both learned was to listen to mother nature trust our instincts and become the quarry you seek, it matters not weather its the humble Rabbit in an English Woodland or a Jaguar in the Swamps of Mexico, and yes we have both done things like this at home and on foreign shores.
Danny is an expert tracker and well without blowing my own trumpet too much, I am not too shabby myself, Danny and I have known each other professionally for a few years now and as personal friends a couple of years, we have worked quite closely together just recently here in North Somerset.
Now this Big Cat subject we both come too from totally different angles, Danny and his approach as a Big Cat Consultant is to prove the existence or non existence of a Big Cat in the area concerned, and advise accordingly the best course of action etc, Danny would normally be called in because there had been reported sightings of a Big Cat or there had been kills of live stock, pets or wildlife, for after all a Big Cat is a predator at the top of the food chain here in the UK.
I come to this as a Professional Pest Controller, part of this duty is live stock protection especially within the Agricultural sector, so if there is a Big Cat making this area its territory I will come into close proximity to said beasts, now this said both Danny and I work the same way, you see most sightings are in a half light seeing a Labrador or large black dog or someones cat and your mind playing tricks on you, kills are more often than not that of Foxes or Badger and even Dogs so almost always the kill is anything but a Big Cat.
Like I say Danny and I think the same way, we must rule out everything else making a sighting or a kill etc anything but that of a Big Cat, then, when we have ruled out everything else and all that we are left with the option of a big cat we really do have our work cut out.
2 stock photos showing big cats.
You see like the Police we get there after the incident has occurred, one lady called us just recently the modern day Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson of the animal kingdom, well all I will say on that is I don’t smoke a pipe so call me Dr.
Now, getting there after a kill or indeed sightings we have to build up a picture as if we were forensic scientists on a murder scene, usually the scene of a possible big cat kill has been contaminated, by this I mean every fox badger rat squirrel crow has had a go at the carcase, more often than not there are dog tracks all over the place dog poo you name it, as its either a dog walker of farmer finds the kill sight.
That alone really compromises the entire scene so as you can see we have our work cut out for us, this coupled with possible sightings in an area all build a picture, now we have to eliminate everything else until we find possible evidence of a Big Cat, this is when we have to think like the beast itself, we have do a detailed examination of the carcase, if its not too badly decayed as quite often its been there a while and maggots do what they do best and well all the evidence is gone, but if we have a fresh kill we stand a chance, carefully skinning the kill another skill of a Countryman looking for puncture wounds, especially around the throat or back of the neck as that is where a Cat strikes to immobilize the quarry, sometimes depending on what type of Cat we are dealing with there are claw grab marks to the beast where it held on, especially if the beast is of a bigger size than that of the Cat that is attacking etc.
I called Danny in to help me on a local estate here in North Somerset, I had reports of livestock being killed, then I had deer being killed, I went out tracking and building up a picture trying to find anymore kills than we had as these were all older kills and decomposed.
Indeed I did find more kills on the estate, as always the first to find death is the corvids (crow family) or as they are known when seen in a group a Murder of Crows, they are like vultures and will find a kill site in no time at all and again they alone will contaminate a site and destroy all evidence, I got to kill number two just in the nick of time, it was the fresh kill of a young Roe Deer, upon examination I could see it was of a yearling, after extensive examination eliminating Man/dog or other beasts I determined this to be the kill of a Big Cat.
I tracked and traced the area and and became The Cat Itself, how would I have stalked up on this prey animal and how would I ambush it, I swept out wider going inside the wood as the deer carcase lay just on the woodland edge on a game trail that most animals used to access the meadow, the Big Cat would also know this and hunt this game trail, I found the deer tracks coming from deep inside the woodland and tracked them right back to the kill site.
Was this Cat laying in wait ready to ambush the deer or did it stalk in following the deer trail or did it just get lucky I asked myself, I tracked in again this time literally with the eye of the Tiger, I noticed a perfect limb of a tree over hanging about nine feet above the game trail, I could not take my eye off that limb it well just called out to me, Danny will tell you the same when you become the predator you see the world in a different way and when a true Countryman is out in mother nature you sort of have, or learn a sixth sense, in the film Crocodile Dundee they made a bit of a joke about this or did they cleverly disguise the sixth sense of a true countryman, I will leave that and your imagination to work that one out.
The more I stood there the more I looked around that tree limb called to me, for if I were a Cat that’s exactly were I would ambush my prey from, a nice comfy limb up off the ground so my scent would not be picked up at ground level with lots of over hanging cover to disguise me, the deer simply walked underneath on the game trail and BANG the cat pounced on this young deer who was completely unaware the Cat was there, the Cat would of effortlessly killed that young deer and set about feeding on it, by the time I found the carcase it was still fresh but cold so was not so fresh I had disturbed the Cat, I was lucky to find this one as often Cats will drag their kill off to deep cover that’s one reason fresh kills are hard to find until they decompose or stink.
Over the coming weeks I had more kills in the area, I called in specialist equipment from some of my sponsors, like dedicated Night Vision from NiteSite and even Thermal Imaging Cameras from Night Master, although my apprentice and I build up a picture and indeed saw large cats we were too far away to make a positive identification of the species etc as this all happened at night and on Camera, indeed we filmed what we saw and have sent the videos etc off to a specialist company to see if they can clean the footage up a bit.
Nothing else for it I had to call in Danny to help as two heads are better than one, I knew I was dealing with more than one animal too, I called Danny we discussed at length what was happening, the kills, the local sightings and my reports etc, Danny agreed to come down and help and bring his extensive collection of motion sensor cameras.
The night before Danny came I was out on the estate as normal Thermal Imaging camera in hand sat watching a kill that I had found a few days before, I was approximately three hundred meters away across and open field looking at the kill on the edge of the woodland, the best part about this Thermal Imaging Spotter there is an app you can get on your phone so who ever is with you can see what you see, it was a windy night the clouds racing across the sky against the full moon, my apprentice said this is a bit scary tonight I laughed and said sit in my truck if your that worried, I leaned on the wing mirror to steady my arm I could see all the fields and woodlands out in front of me, we were right next to a small coppice of woodland parked on the road that lead to the farm house, there right by the kill a large heat source I could easily see as I zoomed the camera in it was the outline of a Cat, right away my experience told me that was a Puma my apprentice took some screen shots as I videoed the Cat.
This was when my sixth sense kicked into gear, I felt like I was being watched then on the tarmac road just behind me I heard a sort of click almost like when my dog jumps from the road into my truck, I span round just catching a heat source disappear into the small wooded coppice we were parked next too, I took a step to my right towards the back door of my truck and there peaking around a tree twenty five yards away was a Lynx, it had come round on the wind scented us and I would say was inquisitive to see what we were doing, if you have read my Big Cats 1 or Big Cats 2 articles you will know more often than not these cats really are inquisitive, I said to my apprentice get in the car as I backed off keeping my eye on the Lynx, WOW what a wonderful but heart pumping moment that all lasted no more than a moment.
Danny came the next day and I told him of the night before and we agreed the Lynx was just being inquisitive to what we were doing, I took him up to the kill sites etc not giving him any of my pictures or telling him anything as he wanted to look at it with fresh eyes, I will leave you for now and let Danny tell the rest and I will come back to you later in this article.
So over to Danny.
Well, I arrived on the estate, and I thought to my self, WOW what a beautiful setting, no two fields looked the same, each had its own character, although I was seeing them in their wet winter glory. I am very passionate about the countryside as I was fortunate enough to grew up in it , living of the land and still do to this day. Surrounding some of these fields were a number of ancient deciduous woodlands creating the perfect cover for wildlife. So, where do you start, of course at the beginning…
My very first question to my dear friend Mr Collins was, where are the water troughs located for the livestock? and are there any natural streams or ponds on the estate? Because, if you have a big cat on your land it’s first priority is to locate water, we all need WATER, without it you will die. These are the areas we need to concentrate on and set up a number of motion detection cameras.
So, of we went to look at the decaying carcass of a roe deer. It was still positioned where it had been killed and eaten, so, the kill and feed site where the same location in a large field that still had the stubble left from the recent crop, in a corner close to a small section of deciduous woodland. The perfect spot for an ambush I thought. As is most predation incidents I get called out to the carcass has nearly always been contaminated, picked over and devoured by other scavengers leaving very little but the skeleton. Now, bones can tell you a story if you know what to look for. A leopard will often smash with its paw the ribs of a prey animal, a puma will very often separate the vertebrae behind the head, also an exotic cat will lick the bones of its prey clean with its tongue which is like a rasp, also you can find the damage that their carnassial teeth do on the skull, so, whilst bent over the stinking remains I started scanning the surrounding area from a predators perspective and it didn’t take me long to build a mental picture of the many game trails that run up and down the field. Alongside me stood Rob, shotgun in hand just in case a big cat was still lying low in the area, this is essential back up when putting yourself in a dangerous situation like I was, kneeling down acting like a prey animal over a kill and feed site.
Into the corner of the ancient deciduous woodland I climbed over a wire fence, from this location I was able to see a well used game trail meandering through a thick layer of English ivy creating the most beautiful evergreen ground cover with a network of paths leading of the main trail. I turned around and looking back out into the field my eye followed the rather long well cut hedge that stands 4feet tall and separated the field from another, it was hollow through the middle, there was also a long thick branch that had fallen from a large oak tree a long time ago and was forming a warm cozy resting place in the hedge for any predator, out of sight, warm and with the perfect vantage point. So, I thought this was to be my first location for a camera, pointing back along the game trail into the woodland to capture any animal that traveled this way, so, out comes my military compass to determine north, Rob quickly confirmed this as well. I’ve been using digital motion detection cameras for a good few years now and I’ve learnt to avoid unwanted false triggers due to fluctuating temperatures, you don’t want your cameras facing a heat source like the sun, so always face your cameras north and south. I also clear the lower branches and tall grasses and weeds very carefully with my secateurs trying not to disturb the area to much but if you don’t trim you will end up with hundreds of photographs of a branch or tall weeds blowing in the wind.
Onwards and upwards. I followed the game trail meticulously on my hands and knees covering every inch and leaving no stone unturned, finding plenty of wildlife tracks and sign, from squirrels, rabbits, badger, fox and roe deer, at the same time looking up into every sizeable tree for a branch that had a clear vantage point, finding a few that looked rather promising. I spotted one such tree, a large beech that had a spectacular curved trunk, so up I got crawling along the bough looking for hair or scratch marks and anything out of place. Underneath this ancient tree was a old cave, and an old drystone wall long forgotten covered in thick laurel bushes and scrub, the perfect resting place for a big cat. As I worked my way along another game trail through the woodland three beautiful roe deer in perfect condition took of to my left. Finally, this trail lead me into another small woodland primarily deciduous with a few tall pine trees dotted around. This area of woodland has a number of deep circular depressions and rock formations scattered around rather random, remnants from its past. The game trail continued to the corner of the woodland where it went under the fence line and out into another field. Positioned in the middle of this game trail was this old ancient yew tree, this was to be my second location for a camera, this one would cover the whole corner of this area, including the field. Climbing over yet another barbed wire fence I ventured over to a water trough that was fixed into an open space in the hedgerow, whilst standing over it I looked down onto it with an ariel view and instantly spotted some tracks that were in the very tall grass leading up to the trough on the other side. These tracks jumped out at me instantly, very circular in shape with a gait of a walk, there was very little straddle and an average stride length measuring up to a big cat. These tracks just stopped at the trough, becoming the animal I visualised what happened next. It lapped up some water whilst surveying all the time around it, then disappeared through a hole under the fence-line next to the trough and followed along the hedgerow and disappeared under the fence-line up into the deciduous woodland that I had just come from. By this time darkness was upon us and the rain started coming down so I quickly set up another camera on the water trough finally calling it a day.
I went back to the estate with Rob on a number of other occasions over the weeks ahead to add other motion detection cameras in another section of ancient deciduous woodland on some well used game trails that roe deer, foxes, badgers, rabbits and squirrels were using regularly. We also walked around every field and every inch of hedge-line following it meticulously looking for any sign, pug-marks, hair, scat or a hollow that could be used for a day bed, which I found, at that moment Rob shouted over from the other side of the hedge saying, “come and have a look at this…” ahh, now I know why he’s called the old hedge creeper…at last, something tangible, a scat, left on the surface only a few hours old. I broke it open with a forked stick from the hedgerow looking for any bones or fur, the smell was of ammonia. More often than not big cats will bury their scat but on occasions they will leave them along their travel trails to warn others it’s their territory. (Like a fox does)
So, to sum up our findings we have had several black leopard sightings by some very reliable locals in the immediate area, including Rob and his apprentice…now, if an offence was committed an eye witness testimony would stand up in a court of law, so, I class a good clear sighting as an important piece of evidence. Rob and his apprentice have seen three different species of exotic cats on the land, we have had two roe deer kills we know of and found the scat and a day bed plus the track evidence I discovered at the trough, alas we captured no big cat this time on camera but It’s typical, a big cat will move through its vast territory silently killing undetected in most instances and finally moving on before i arrive to pick up the pieces and put them together. To be continued…
After all the goings on I talked Danny into doing one of his famous Big Cat Talks, although Danny is retired from doing the talks now as he has a lot of personal commitments, I twisted his arm as I knew this would be a great thing to do here all in aid of Pass It On Young Sports, I head up this awesome little organization of volunteers who donate their time to inspire young people and their families all about Field Sports and Conservation and how it all walks hand in hand, indeed Danny is a passionate supporter and volunteers any of his spare time to the cause, so I knew that was a perfect carrot to use to talk Danny into putting on one of his famous talks on the Big Cats Of Great with his glamorous assistant yours truly.
The Big Cat Talk, we held it at the Ring O Bells Public House in Nailsea on the 20th of January, it was a sell out crowd we literally could not fit another person in the function room and there was standing room only, we had a wonderful buffet put on by Dave the landlord.
The talk itself was in two parts, the first half was a slide show with Danny talking about his work as a big cat consultant for the Police, the Military, the general public and the media for well over three decades, this first half blew the minds of the audience, if there were any skeptics or non believers they soon reverted to true believers, we then stopped for a break to have the buffet and refreshments but folks were still queuing to speak to Danny.
The second half was showing this vast display of evidence, A3 laminated photographs and skulls and more, all properly documented I might add showing Danny as a true professional, then we asked for questions from the floor and people wanted to tell us about their sightings etc, it became very apparent that sighting had happened in areas both Danny and I had investigated in the past, either on our own or together and these sightings just reaffirmed the evidence we already had proving those Cats existed in those areas and were indeed territories of said animals, Danny and I relayed stories to the crowed as they did back to us, we answered their questions as best we could, the evening came to an end all too soon…
The Big Cat Talk was such a massive hit that we have received literally hundreds of emails/Face Book Messages/texts/letters & phone calls asking can we do another Big Cats Of Britain Talk again, well after chatting with Danny and the venue the answer to that is YES, so if you want to come to the next one its now on the 27th of October 2018 from 6pm until 10pm, you can either get tickets from The Ring O Bells Pub in Nailsea or by calling my secretary on 07501962893 or by going online to www.theoutpostshop.co.uk an
All that’s left to say is I hope you have enjoyed this article on The Big Cats Of Britain, come to our talk it will blow your mind.
By The Ole Hedge Creeper & The Big Cat Man
aka Rob Collins aka Danny Nineham