Are There Local Puma and Black Leopards In The Wild?

More unusual phenomena in Kent linked from the Kent51 Archive - If have anything 'unexplained' you'd like to share please email us content@yourcounty.co.uk.

By Neil Arnold

For several years large cats such as Puma and black Leopard have been seen, prowling the undergrowth around Bluewater Shopping Centre at Greenhithe. Many sceptics have dismissed such sightings as a hoax, but Kent Big Cat Research can confirm that such felids have been spotted for more than fifty years in the area, when the location was little more than fields and woods.

What makes these sightings so dubious now, to the non-believing public, is the idea that a large animal is slinking through an area that attracts millions of shoppers each year. However, an elusive animal such as a black Leopard would not alter its route drastically just because a huge mall has been planted on its territory.

In 2006 several sightings have been reported of a black animal mooching around one of the car-parks. Two families, who'd been to the cinema, had emerged from Bluewater, and headed to the car-park when they saw a melanistic Leopard (panther) slipping into the darkness. The animal had most likely been attracted to the area by the cover, the water and the bird life.

Bluewater management may not be best pleased that a large felid is finding the area so curious, but these sightings are nothing new, and surrounding areas such as Bean, Darenth and Gravesend, have been inhabited by large cats for several decades.

The dark roads around Bluewater enable these cats to scour for food, and several sightings have been made by motorists during the early hours of the morning. In 2005 and 2003 two drivers were forced to brake sharply as a black Leopard casually strolled across a road leading from the shopping area, its eyes reflecting bright yellow in the headlights. During one afternoon in 2004 a woman and her daughter were packing shopping into their car when they spotted a fawn-coloured cat (Puma) sitting in the bushes watching them. They were not scared by the presence of the animal.

Sceptics continue to doubt the existence of 'big cats' in the UK, despite the hundreds of reports. Unfortunately, the scepticism simply plunges the beauty and reality of these animals into myth, alongside ghosts and the like. However, populations exist in abundance, and sightings will persist in built-up areas.

No-one visiting Bluewater is under any kind of threat from an animal that is shy and also intelligent but the public must be made aware that these cats DO exist and must be accepted, and NOT harmed.

If you see a cat in Kent, email KENT BIG CAT RESEARCH neilthemod1@blueyonder.co.uk

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