Britain’s top ‘big cat’ tracker says UK’s population is breeding and booming

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Huge wild cats are living in Britain and legends like the Beast of Bodmin Moor are true, an expert claims.

Rhoda Watkins has spent more than 20 years investigating big cats using her specialist knowledge to monitor their behaviour.

She has now gathered enough evidence to be certain of the presence of animals such as pumas and leopards in the UK – and claims there is now a healthy breeding population.

Rhoda, 42, of Redruth, Cornwall, says she uses her instincts to investigate changes in the natural environment caused by predators.

She learned while spending time with the San bushmen in Namibia, who are renowned as the best trackers in the world.

And applying a scientific approach, she says all evidence points to big cats running wild are not just being the stuff of local legends.

Rhoda and her partner Jay Opie were approached by the producers of the feature-length documentary, Britain's Big Cat Mystery, which lifts the lid on the ongoing enigma of wild cats in the UK.

She said she was in no doubt wild cats existed in Britain – and in big numbers.

"I have studied the behaviour of animals, including prey species and big cats and see things with a tracking mindset," she said.

"There is just too much evidence out there that can not be anything other than big cats."

She went on: "There is a lot of nonsense around sightings of domestic cats and dogs, but all the signs are there is a decent-sized population out there.

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"I spend all my time outdoors and am tracking wildlife constantly. When you do that you find other things that don't fit with the native wildlife.

"This could be tracks or footprints. On a couple of occasions, I have seen kills with carcasses you could not attribute to anything other than a big cat.

"I have also spoken to so many credible witnesses who have seen similar things. I have been called on a few occasions to investigate and will always take a scientific approach to it all."

Rhoda was born in South Africa and grew up around big cats, bonding with lion cubs at a rescue centre as a child.

At the age of nine, she moved to Cornwall and went on to study zoology at university.

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  • She added: "Later on I spent time with the San bushmen in Namibia and learnt a lot from them. They are the best trackers in the world.

    "My stalking and tracking techniques were really honed with them. You learn about the behaviour of big cats, which by their nature are really elusive.

    "But I just apply what I learnt in Africa about how to find these cats over here."

    Rhoda said that while many big cat sightings often turn out not to be, the idea of legends like the Beast of Bodmin do have relevance.

    She added: "These legends are always good to get people interested.

    "But there has got to be some substance behind myths and legends and something must trigger it in the first place.

    "It is then we can research it further and people can talk about what they have seen.

    "A lot of the photos I have seen are of domestic cats, but a few have warranted looking into further.

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  • "It is normally too late to investigate them though as you need to look at the tracks and signs at an early stage."

    Britain's Big Cat Mystery is the world's first and only feature-length documentary exploring the unusual phenomenon of the UK's population of mysterious large cats.

    The film reviews newly uncovered and previously lost evidence, including long-forgotten archive footage, as well as exclusive new interviews with key witnesses to the seminal events in the history of the mysterious big cats of Britain.

    Rhoda added: "The guys who made the film spoke to a lot of people who knew cats were released when the Dangerous Wild Animals Act was introduced in 1976.

    "There were scrapyards that used to use pumas as guard animals. What happened to all of these?

    "They did not want to go for the licences or have them put down so they just let them go.

    "There are lots of people that know animals were released or escaped.

    "I think given that the Act was so long ago and there are credible sightings now, there has got to be enough out there to be a breeding population. We are now seeing the offspring of those who were released.

    "There are pumas, a mixture of leopards, and lynx. In fact I am going to investigate a lynx sighting this week."

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