Since the 1970's literally hundreds (if not, thousands) of big cat sightings have been reported from within the Chase's mysterious plantation, often by seemingly rational and trustworthy witnesses. In truth, these accounts have received more publicity within the national and international press than any other phenomena reported in the area, so predictably this is a very hot topic that creates a whole load of controversy – something I’m a huge fan of.
In 1976 the Dangerous Animals Act came into force in England, which made it illegal to keep fierce and predatory creatures as pets without a licence. The problem was though, many people already had these animals, and thanks to parliament, they were now breaking the law. Without having much choice in the matter, pet owners far and wide began releasing their ferocious, wild beasts into secluded countryside locations. Unfortunately, many of these animals would have struggled to survive unaided in England, however, is it possible that some species were more suited to our climate than others? Have exotic cats been breeding secretly for the last 40 years? Some journalists and researchers would argue that the evidence suggests they have.
To illustrate the reality of this situation, in 1989 the body of an Asian Jungle Cat was found in the town of Ludlow, Shropshire (around 25 miles outside of Cannock Chase). Some people believe that this jungle cat and others like it could have mated with local domestic felines, creating a race of super-moggies who still roam the peaceful countryside to this very day, although the serious research community are notably divided on the issue. World famous zoologist and cryptozoologist Dr Karl Shuker, who has written many books on the subject of mystery cats in Britain told a popular television reporter that “from the condition of it (the carcase) and the age, it had been in the area for quite some time. Many people had reported seeing an animal like this, but they hadn't been believed until the body was found”. This suggests the cat had more than enough time to breed, but although sightings do continue in the area, no further hard evidence has been uncovered.
For the most part, when people in England use the word “panther”, they are referring to Melanistic Leopards, and in some cases Puma's or Jaguars. However, in other places around the world, the word is used to describe a whole plethora of different big cats. So in reality “panther” is not a very good descriptive term, and many witnesses probably use it incorrectly. However, local people have adopted the word, and so for the purpose of this section, I will continue to use it.
In 2009 the Express and Star newspaper reported that an expert, who had been advising the police about the existence of big cats in England’s woodland's, said that he believed Puma's have been breeding on Cannock Chase since the 1940's, and again dubbed the area a hotspot. The article went on to state that, only a few weeks previously a deer had been found dead, after having been dragged into a ditch, with two puncture holes to the neck – trademark signs of a big cat attack. Also, another man from the village of Norton Canes had stumbled upon, and subsequently taken photographs of, a huge paw-print within a week or two of the incident, which measured at an astonishing 5 by 6 inches.
I have spent a couple of days searching for the Panther on Cannock Chase myself, but found little more than dubious droppings, which may or may not come from the local deer population. I have however, unearthed some brand new sighting reports that will be included in my forthcoming book about the area.
The lack of hard evidence for the existence of this woodland beast is somewhat perplexing, but if it is just an urban myth, why do so many people send in sighting reports? They have nothing to gain from such claims as far as I can see, so for the most part, must we conclude they are genuine?
Until next time my friends........
Written by Lee Brickley 2013