Alien big cat or Phantom cat (also known as ABCs) are terms used to describe sightings of supposed exotic cats in an area which they are not native to. They are most commonly reported from the U.K., North America, and Australia. Many are reported to be black in color. Many cats have become staple creatures in local culture; such as the Beast of Bodmin Moor, The Beast of Dartmoor, the Surrey Puma and the Gippsland Phantom cat. The most common cat identities are black leopards and puma. The U.K has only one native cat, the Scottish wildcat (Felis SIlvestris Silvestris) , as well as a unique hybrid between the domestic cat (Felis Catus) and the wildcat known as the kellas cat, both inhabiting Scotland, but ABCs are much larger and have been spotted as far South as Cornwall. Australia does not have any native placental cats, though a marsupial identity has been proposed for some sightings.
There are many theories as to how exotic big cats arrived in these areas, such as escapees from zoos and circuses. In the U.K, the most plausible answer takes us back to the 1970s: exotic animals and especially big cats were kept as pets across the country by members of the upper class as a sign of status. In 1976, the "Dangerous Wild Animals Act" (or DWAA) was passed, stating that it was now illegal to own dangerous, exotic pets. By order of the act, the government was given power to seize and dispose of pets without compensation to the owner. Often this meant that the animal would be put down. Owing to this, many pet owners during the time instead opted to release their animals into the wild, causing wild populations of big cats to be started. Due to the time gap and sightings still being made in the present, it is even thought that these big cats released in the 70s have begun to breed. Interestingly, it is to be noted that under the DWAA, animal circuses were actually exempt from the act, and in fact animal circuses were only made illegal across the U.K as recently as January of 2020. However, it is still thought that a large portion of British big cats originated from zoos and whilst not concrete evidence, famous circus owner Mary Chipperfield came forward and said that she released three puma during the 1970s into the British countryside.
Another important explanation to be taken into consideration is the popularity of savannah cats as pets. Savannah cats are domestic cat (Felis catus) and serval (Leptailurus serval) hybrids, and the largest of the domestic cats. These could easily be misidentified for big cats due to their appearance and size and it's almost certain that a large number of ABC sightings can be attributed to them.
In 1980, a semi-tame Puma was captured near Inverness, Scotland. It was subsequently dubbed Felicity, and was kept at the Highland wildlife park until its death, when it was stuffed and turned over to the Inverness museum.
In 1903, a Canadian lynx thought to have escaped or been set free from captivity was shot after attacking two dogs in Devon, U.K. The animal was stuffed and donated to the Bristol museum where it remains to this day.
Documentaries of note
On The Trail of The Big Cats - Mysterious Universe (1994) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2bedloYjoM
Finding the UK's Elusive Black Cats - Real Wild (2017) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjCoyPSatVw
In 1903 a Canadian lynx was killed after attacking two dogs in Devon, U.K. The animal was taxidermized and donated to the Bristol Museum.
Felicity as she came to be known, was a cat first reported in 1977 and eventually captured by farmer Ted Noble in 1980. The animal was held responsible for the deaths of many of Ted's sheep and he even witnessed it stalk his ponies. Due to the police's reluctance to aid the capture of Felicity, Ted took matters into his own hands and managed to trap the puma in a cage. The animal was then kept in captivity for the rest of its life and subsequently stuffed and donated to the Inverness museum.
On March 7th 1991 in Grimsby, three lions escaped famous circus owner Mary Chipperfield's big top and ran away. Roaming the streets, one of the lions mauled a man called Michael Strandt. The lions were eventually recaptured and returned to captivity.
In 1996, police marksmen shot and killed an animal believed to be a lion. Upon further study it was concluded to be a caracal.
On the 21st of November 1998, schoolboys reported being attacked whilst camping on Dartmoor. One reported the cat to be roughly the size of a great dane and another described its appearance to be somewhat resembling of a lynx. Despite this, the animal came to be known as the "Dartmoor lion." Upon police inspection, a pawprint casted by big cat specialist Robin Goodbeer proved to belong to a big cat.
In 1999 a retriever-Rottweiler cross with eczema was concluded to be the culprit of numerous ABC reports.
On an unknown date in 2000, an 11 year old boy named Josh Hopkins was attacked by a supposed black cat in Monmouthshire, Whales. The boy was playing outside his house in Trellech when the creature attacked and he came out with five long claw marks, some to the face which needed immediate medical treatment. It is thought this is credited to a house cat rather than a any wild cat.
In may of this year, a woman reported a large cat in her back garden in Cricklewood, London described as a leopard. Once the animal was sedated, it was found to be a European lynx and was transferred to London Zoo. It is still unknown where it came from.
Notes and References
Smith, Chris. Felicity the Puma. Scottish Big Cat Trust.
https://www.animallaw.info/statute/uk-dangerous-dangerous-wild-animals-act-1976-dwaa - The DWAA or Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976, amended in 2010.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22263874 - Canadian lynx in Devon
https://web.archive.org/web/20150421192216/http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/index.php/updates/Four-Lions-escape-in-Grimsby-Town-Centre/ - The three lions which escaped from Mary Chipperfield's circus top, 1991
http://scotcats.online.fr/abc/attacks/dartmoorlions.html - Dartmoor lion report
http://scotcats.online.fr/abc/photoalbum/joshhopkins.html - The Josh Hopkins big cat attack
https://www.theguardian.com/science/2001/jul/19/highereducation.education - Multiple sources