Cheshire’s association with cats dates back to a time before the Roman invasion, when the Cornovii people used the animal as a tribal symbol.
Cheshire was then a place at the end of the known world, shrouded in mystery and covered in the forests of Mara and Mondrem.
Although the great forests have been lost to history, the Cheshire Cat may remain. In 2021, as many as 20 sightings of a ‘big cat’ or ‘puma’ were reported to Puma Watch North Wales from the Cheshire region.
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These sightings included images of a suspected mountain lion stalking across fields in Frodsham, a big cat in the meadows of Chester and another pouncing in front of a car at Tarvin roundabout.
The UK Government has set out the steps it is taking to investigate the reports, after the Welsh Government announced that reports of big wild cats are “taken seriously and investigated thoroughly”.
A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), said: “If Natural England (NE) received credible information suggesting there was a big cat living in wild and posing a threat to agriculture (such as livestock predation), it would work with Defra to take appropriate action.
“Evidence would be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Natural England would analyze all evidence presented to them, first internally, and seek external expert advice as needed.
Cheshire cougar sightings
“Similarly, if NE received credible information suggesting there was a big cat living in the wild and posing a threat to public health and safety, it would report the matter to local law enforcement.
“Rare cases of escapees, such as a Lynx from Dartmoor Zoo in July 2016, tend to implicate local authorities as the escape is likely to have resulted from a breach of the zoo’s license or license of the Guardian’s Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976.
“In all of the cases reported to Natural England in recent years, no credible evidence has been provided which would warrant action by Defra/Home Office/police.”
The Welsh Government has confirmed it will visit the scene of reported sightings and take steps such as taking casts or paw prints, analyzing images and removing animal carcasses for examinations post mortem.
Responding to an inquiry by MP Rob Roberts, Lesley Griffiths, Welsh Minister for the Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, said that “It is the policy of the Welsh Government to investigate all reports received by the Department economy, skills and natural resources regarding alleged sightings”. and big cat attacks on livestock in Wales.”
She continued: “If hard evidence is provided, my wildlife team officials conduct site visits, collect livestock carcasses for autopsy, evaluate video footage, take casts of paw prints and investigate any other evidence indicating the possible presence of big cats.
“The evidence collected is assessed with the help of UK wildlife experts as well as research departments at zoos, universities and the Animal and Plant Health Agency.
“To date, through this process, the Welsh Government has not identified any evidence proving the existence of big cats in the Welsh countryside.”
Puma Watch North Wales says the existence of pumas living in the wild in the British countryside is plausible.
They say: “When big cats were banned as pets in the 1970s, it was legal to release them into the countryside to avoid costly re-housing costs. Owners from all over the UK traveled to regions like Wales to release their cats into a remote environment, where small but significant populations have since flourished.
“A visitor to an animal rescue center in Snowdonia in 1994 recently claimed he had been introduced to four puma kittens. He said: ‘I strongly suspect they were released into the wild as they didn’t had no papers and no money to feed or house them. They were definitely gone six months later.