Friday, May 17, 2024

DNA from big cat found on sheep's carcass in Cumbria

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Well now.

BBC Countryfile reports:

An undisclosed Cumbrian hill farm is the location for the first ever positive identification of big cat DNA taken from a carcass.

In October last year, Cumbrian resident Sharon Larkin-Snowden came across the carcass and disturbed the animal that had been feeding on it.

Larkin-Snowden told big cat expert Rick Minter’s Big Cat Conversations podcast that the carcass was clearly still fresh and that only some of the internal organs had been consumed.

“To my right, I saw something black running, and assumed it was a sheepdog,” she said. “Then I did a double take and realised it was a black cat. It ran towards a stone wall, stopped and then jumped the wall. It was big – the size of a German shepherd dog.”

Larkin-Snowden took swabs from the sheep’s nose and back and front legs, and they were sent to a laboratory at the University of Warwick which specialises in testing for big cat DNA run by Prof Robin Allaby.

Allaby told BBC Countryfile Magazine they were able to make a positive identification of DNA belonging to a cat from the Panthera genus. This includes five species – lion, leopard, tiger, jaguar and snow leopard, but only two – leopard and jaguar – that have melanistic (black) forms as seen by Larkin-Snowden. 

You can hear Sharon Larkin-Snowden interviewed in the latest edition of Rick Minter's Big Cat Conversations podcast.

This is not the first time big cat DNA has been found in the English countryside. As the Countryfile report says, in 2022 black hair found snagged on a barbed-wire fence after a sheep attack on a Gloucestershire farm was identified as belonging to a big cat. The BBC's Discover Wildlife site says it was found to be a 99.9 per cent match to the leopard Panthera Pardus.

The picture that Big Cat Conversations has painted over the years is that farmers know the big cats are out there but they don't make a fuss about it. 

This is because the cats generally take deer, the sort of species they evolved to predate, which can be a nuisance to farmers if there are too many of them. It's also because farmers don't want nutters turning up to shoot the cats or officialdom snooping round their farms.

If too much firm evidence like this Cumbrian DNA is discovered, this happy picture could be put at risk.

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