Big Cats III
By The Ole Hedge Creeper & The Big Cat Man
At The Countryman's Diary Magazine we pride ourselves in our non PC approach, tackling subjects that other magazines or media shy away from, we don't just dip our toe in the water of a subject, we jump right in the wild pool as all proper country boys do, for how are you supposed to understand a subject then write about it.
I (The Ole Hedge Creeper) am only going to write half of this article, as my good friend Danny Nineham The world renowned Big Cat Consultant also famously known as The Big cat Man will be writing the other half.
Danny like Myself has also traveled the world learning skills from native people from many countries, from the Native Indian to the African Tracker and all in between, one thing I know we have both learned was to listen to mother nature trust our instincts and become the quarry you seek, it matters not whether its the humble Rabbit in an English Woodland or a Jaguar in the Swamps of Mexico, and yes we have both done things like this at home and on foreign shores.
Danny is an expert tracker, without blowing my own trumpet too much, I am not too shabby myself, Danny and I have known each other professionally for a few years now and as personal friends a couple of years, we have worked quite closely together just recently here in North Somerset.
I on the other hand come to this as a Professional Pest Controller, part of this duty is live stock protection especially within the Agricultural sector, so if there is a Big Cat making this area its territory, I will come into close proximity to said beasts at some point, now this said both Danny and I work the same way, you see most sightings are in a half light, seeing a Black Labrador or large black dog or someone's cat and your mind playing tricks on you, kills are more often than not that of Foxes or Badger and even Dogs so almost always the kill is anything but a Big Cat.
Like I say Danny and I think the same way, we must rule out everything else making a sighting or a kill etc anything but that of a Big Cat, then when we have ruled out everything else and all that we are left with, is the option of a big cat , now we really do have our work cut out for us.
Now getting there after a kill or indeed sightings, we have to build up a picture as if we were forensic scientists on a murder scene, usually the scene of a possible Big Cat kill has been contaminated, by this I mean every fox, badger, rat, squirrel, crow has had a go at the carcass, more often than not there are dog tracks all over the place, dog poo you name it, as its either a dog walker or a farmer that finds the kill sight.
That alone really compromises the entire scene, so as you can see we have our work cut out for us, this coupled with possible sightings in an area all build a picture but are no way near conclusive evidence of a Big Cat.
Now we have to eliminate everything else, until we find possible evidence of a Big Cat, this is when we have to think like the beast itself, we have to do a detailed examination of the carcass, if its not too badly decayed as quite often its been there a while and maggots do what they do best and well all the evidence is gone, but if we have a fresh kill, we stand a chance, carefully skinning the kill is another skill of a Countryman, we are looking for puncture wounds, especially around the throat or back of the neck, as that is where a Cat strikes to immobilize the quarry.
Sometimes depending on what type of Cat we are dealing with, there are claw grab marks to the quarry beast where the predator held on, in this case a Big Cat, especially if the beast is of a bigger size than that of the Cat that is attacking etc.
Indeed, I did find more kills on the estate, as always the first to find death are the corvids (crow family) or as they are known when seen in a group, a Murder of Crows, they are like vultures and will find a kill site in no time at all, again they alone will contaminate a site and destroy all evidence.
I got to kill site number two just in the nick of time, it was the fresh kill of a young Roe Deer, upon examination, I could see it was of a large yearling, one of last years fawns, after extensive examination and skinning the beast and finding puncture wounds to its neck, thus eliminating Man/dog or other beasts, I determined this to be the possible kill of a Big Cat.
I asked myself was this Cat laying in wait ready to ambush the deer? or did it stalk in following the deer /game trail? or did it just get lucky? I tracked in again this time literally with the eye of the Tiger, I noticed a perfect limb of a tree over hanging about nine feet above the game trail just above the kill itself.
I could not take my eye off that limb, it well just called out to me, Danny will tell you the same when you become the predator you see the world in a different way, when a true Countryman is out in mother nature you sort of have, or learn a sixth sense, in the film Crocodile Dundee they made a bit of a joke about this, or did they cleverly disguise the sixth sense of a true countryman, I will leave that and your imagination to work that one out for yourselves.
P.S I am the one on the right wearing the hat, if were comparing ourselves in this picture, lol Danny would be happy to be the Aboriginal ;-)
When the time was right BANG the cat pounced on this young deer who was completely unaware the Cat was there, the Cat would of effortlessly killed that young deer and set about feeding on it, by the time I found the carcass it was still fresh but cold, so was not so fresh I had disturbed the Cat over the kill itself, that's not saying the cat was not there watching me as they are masters of camouflage too, its one reason I always carry a loaded shot gun when inspecting kills or tracking these beasts, its an insurance a back up just in case one looks at me as a predator challenging its kill etc, I would not shoot unless human life was threatened, I was lucky to find this one as often Cats will drag their kill off to deep cover that's one reason fresh kills are hard to find until they decompose or stink.
The night before Danny came I was out on the estate as normal, Thermal Imaging camera in hand sat watching a kill that I had found a few days before, I was approximately three hundred meters away across and open stubble field looking at the kill on the edge of the woodland.
The best part about this Thermal Imaging Spotter, there is an app you can get on your phone, so who ever is with you can see what you are seeing through the camera.
It was a windy night, the clouds racing across the sky against the full moon, my apprentice said this is a bit scary tonight, I laughed and said sit in my truck if your that worried, you can still see on the phone what I see on the camera, I leaned on the wing mirror to steady my arm, I could see all the fields and woodlands out in front of me very clearly, we were right next to a small coppice of woodland parked on the road that lead to the farm house.
After some time, there stood right by the kill a large heat source appeared, I could easily see as I zoomed the thermal camera in it was the outline of a Cat, right away my experience told me that was outline of a Puma, smaller head large muscular athletic body, my apprentice took some screen shots as I videoed the Cat.
This was when my sixth sense kicked into gear, I felt like I was being watched, then on the tarmac road just behind me I heard a sort of click, almost like when my dog jumps from the road into my truck, I span round just catching a heat source disappear into the small wooded coppice we were parked next too.
I took a step to my right towards the back door of my truck, there peaking around a tree twenty five yards away was a Lynx, it had come round on the wind and scented us, I would say it was just being inquisitive to see what we were doing and not aggressive in any way, if you have read my Big Cats 1 or Big Cats 2 articles, you will know more often than not these cats really are inquisitive and just want to know what we are or what we are doing, I said to my apprentice get in the car as I backed off keeping my eye on the Lynx, WOW what a wonderful but heart pumping moment that all lasted no more than a moment.
Danny came the next day and I told him of the night before, we agreed the Lynx was just being inquisitive to what we were doing etc, it posed no threat, I took him up to the kill sites on this North Somerset Estate, not giving him any of my pictures or telling him anything as he wanted to look at it with fresh eyes, I will leave you for now and let Danny tell the rest and I will come back to you later in this article.
Surrounding some of these fields were a number of ancient deciduous woodlands creating the perfect cover for wildlife. So, where do you start, of course at the beginning.
My very first question to my dear friend Mr Rob Collins was, where are the water troughs located for the livestock? and are there any natural streams or ponds on the estate? Because, if you have a big cat on your land it's first priority is to locate water, we all need WATER, without it you will die. These are the areas we need to concentrate on and set up a number of motion detection cameras.
The perfect spot for an ambush I thought. As is most predation incidents I get called out to the carcass has nearly always been contaminated, picked over and devoured by other scavengers leaving very little but the skeleton.
Now, bones can tell you a story if you know what to look for. A leopard will often smash with its paw the ribs of a prey animal, a puma will very often separate the vertebrae behind the head, also an exotic cat will lick the bones of its prey clean with its tongue which is like a rasp, also you can find the damage that their carnassial teeth do on the skull, so, whilst bent over the stinking remains, I started scanning the surrounding area from a predators perspective and it didn't take me long to build a mental picture of the many game trails that run up and down the field.
Alongside me stood Rob, shotgun in hand just in case a big cat was still lying low in the area, this is essential back up when putting yourself in a dangerous situation like I was, kneeling down acting like a prey animal over a kill and feed site.
Into the corner of the ancient deciduous woodland I climbed over a wire fence, from this location I was able to see a well used game trail meandering through a thick layer of English ivy creating the most beautiful evergreen ground cover with a network of paths leading of the main trail.
I turned around and looking back out into the field my eye followed the rather long well cut hedge that stands 4feet tall and separated the field from another, it was hollow through the middle, there was also a long thick branch that had fallen from a large oak tree a long time ago and was forming a warm cozy resting place in the hedge for any predator, out of sight, warm and with the perfect vantage point.
So, I thought this was to be my first location for a camera, pointing back along the game trail into the woodland to capture any animal that traveled this way, so, out comes my military compass to determine north, Rob quickly confirmed this as well as like me he knows natural navigation but the compass just confirmed what we both already knew.
I've been using digital motion detection cameras for a good few years now and I've learnt to avoid unwanted false triggers due to fluctuating temperatures, you don't want your cameras facing a heat source like the sun, so always face your cameras north and south. I also clear the lower branches and tall grasses and weeds very carefully with my secateurs trying not to disturb the area to much but if you don't trim you will end up with hundreds of photographs of a branch or tall weeds blowing in the wind.
Onwards and upwards.
I spotted one such tree, a large beech that had a spectacular curved trunk, so up I got crawling along the bough looking for hair or scratch marks and anything out of place.
Underneath this ancient tree was an old cave, and an old drystone wall long forgotten covered in thick laurel bushes and scrub, the perfect resting place for a big cat.
As I worked my way along another game trail through the woodland three beautiful roe deer in perfect condition took of to my left.
Finally, this trail lead me into another small woodland primarily deciduous with a few tall pine trees dotted around, this area of woodland has a number of deep circular depressions and rock formations scattered around rather random, remnants from its past.
The game trail continued to the corner of the woodland where it went under the fence line and out into another field. Positioned in the middle of this game trail was this old ancient yew tree, this was to be my second location for a camera, this one would cover the whole corner of this area, including the field. Climbing over yet another barbed wire fence, I ventured over to a water trough that was fixed into an open space in the hedgerow, whilst standing over it I looked down onto it with an Ariel view and instantly spotted some tracks that were in the very tall grass leading up to the trough on the other side.
These tracks jumped out at me instantly, very circular in shape with a gait of a walk, there was very little straddle and an average stride length measuring up to a big cat. These tracks just stopped at the trough, becoming the animal I visualised what happened next.
It lapped up some water whilst surveying all the time around it, then disappeared through a hole under the fence-line next to the trough and followed along the hedgerow and disappeared under the fence-line up into the deciduous woodland that I had just come from. By this time darkness was upon us and the rain started coming down so I quickly set up another camera on the water trough finally calling it a day. I went back to the estate with Rob on a number of other occasions over the weeks ahead to add other motion detection cameras in another section of ancient deciduous woodland on some well used game trails that roe deer, foxes, badgers, rabbits and squirrels were using regularly.
We also walked around every field and every inch of hedge-line following it meticulously looking for any sign, pug-marks, hair, scat or a hollow that could be used for a day bed, which I found, at that moment Rob shouted over from the other side of the hedge saying, "come and have a look at this..." ahh, now I know why he's called The Ole Hedge Creeper he has the eyes of a Hawk and the instincts of the Wild...at last, something tangible, a scat, left on the surface only a few hours old.
I broke it open with a forked stick from the hedgerow looking for any bones or fur, the smell was of ammonia. More often than not big cats will bury their scat but on occasions they will leave them along their travel trails to warn others it's their territory (Like a fox does) and other predators.
To be continued as more sightings come in weekly...
I head up this awesome little organization of volunteers, who donate their time to inspire young people and their families all about Field Sports and Conservation, how it all walks hand in hand, indeed Danny is a passionate supporter and volunteers any of his spare time to the cause, so I knew that this was a perfect carrot to use to talk Danny into putting on one of his famous talks all about the Big Cats Of Great Britain with his glamorous assistant yours truly.
The talk itself was in two parts, the first half was a slide show, Danny talking about his work on Big Cats, this covered well over four Decades worth of his work and his consulting to the Police the Army and even the SAS and more, this first half blew the minds of the audience, if there were any skeptics or non believers they soon reverted to true believers by the time Danny had finished talking, We then stopped for a break to have the buffet and refreshments and obviously a toilet break, Danny was inundated with people wanting to talk to him.
The second half was showing his vast display of evidence photographs and skulls and more, all properly documented I might add showing Danny as a true professional, Then we opened up the floor and asked for questions from the people, who all wanted to tell us about their sightings etc, it became very apparent that sighting had happened in areas both Danny and I had investigated in the past, either on our own or together especially our most recent work together here in North Somerset, these sightings just reaffirmed the evidence we already had proving those Cats existed in those areas and were indeed territories of said animals, Danny and I relayed stories to the crowd as they did back to us, we answered their questions as best we could, the evening came to an end all too soon,
Well after chatting with Danny and the venue, the answer to that is YES, so if you want to come to the next one, its now on the 27th of October 2018 from 6pm until 10pm, you can either get tickets from The Ring O Bells Pub in Nailsea or by calling my secretary on 07501962893 or by going online to www.theoutpostshop.co.uk and clicking on The Big Cats link, but be quick as tickets are limited and will sell out fast.
All that's left to say is I hope you have enjoyed this article on The Big Cats Of Britain, come to our talk it will blow your mind.
Big Cats III
By The Ole Hedge Creeper & Danny Nineham (The Big Cat Consultant)