EVERY now and again stories pop up of big cat sightings across Wales and it is now widely accepted that the amazing animals do roam around our country.

So how many big cats are there in the wild in Wales?

In 2020 alone there were many sightings in North Wales:

October

  • ABERGELE: Chloe Green took a photograph of a creature she saw as she was walking in Coed Y Gopa woods near Gwrych Castle.
  • PENTRE HALKYN: Robert Kardziz, who took over Billie Jeans cafe in July, reports a strange encounter with a mystery beast when he was locking up.
  • SNOWDONIA: A hiker from Leeds describes what he believes was a puma on Snowdon’s Crib Goch ridge.

November

  • PONTYBODKIN: Toby Matthews captured video footage a big cat-like creature ahead of him at the Wood Pit Nature Reserve between Pontybodkin and Llanfynydd.
  • CORWEN: A video captured by Dee Forbes shows a “very large black cat with an unusual swagger” moving from left to right near the railway line.
  • SNOWDONIA: A farmer reports that he has lost ten sheep to what he believes is a big cat stalking the mountains of Snowdonia.
  • WHITFORD: Witness reports finding the carcass of a badger stripped to the bone by a mystery predator

December

  • PONTYBODKIN: Anonymous witness reports seeing a cat-like creature “at least the size of a Welsh Springer Spaniel” running across a field
Images from a video shot in Trelogan, North Wales by Jonathan Terry in February 2021

The sightings have been so common that a group to catalogue them, called Puma Watch North Wales, has been started by locals.

The group say that when big cats were banned as pets in the 1970s, it was legal to release them into the countryside to avoid expensive rehoming costs.

Owners from across the UK travelled to Wales to release their cats in our remote environment, where small but significant populations have thrived ever since.

Big cats such as pumas are solitary and their hunting range is dozens of miles. They’re mostly spotted in Snowdonia and the Clwydian hills but range as far out as Prestatyn.

Tony Jones, of Puma Watch North Wales, said: “Big cat sightings are frequent in North Wales, although we’ve noticed a bit of a drop off in the last three or four years, there would usually be a sighting reported in the local media at least every dozen weeks before that. 

“Most sightings go unreported, especially when people are unsure about what they’ve seen, but to get some idea of the scale, back in 2006 BBC research noted over 100 sightings in Mid and North Wales over an 18-month period. 

“There are countless accounts of sightings shared by locals, both recent and historic. It seems it’s common knowledge among many local communities that a small population of big cats such as pumas exist within North Wales.

“We believe most of those reporting sightings did indeed see pumas or cougars. Some people say they aren’t sure and it could have been something more common, though we have a Twitter account with a small established following and from the sightings reported to us, it’s clear many are seriously and genuinely concerned.

“Some will immediately dismiss any reports in the media, but particularly after some of the closer encounters reported, there’s no way someone could just have seen a loose dog or domestic cat.

“They could also pose a risk to small children and pets and some local farmers believe they have been killing the badgers on their land. 

“We believe many of the attacks on livestock blamed on out-of-control pet dogs are actually the work of predators roaming wild, though we acknowledge the threat posed by dogs should not be minimised and that they are still the likely perpetrators in most cases.”

What to do if you encounter a big cat:

  • Never approach a big cat to take a photo
  • The species of big cat known to inhabit North Wales are reclusive, solitary animals which avoid human contact. Provided you don’t deliberately approach or follow one, it’s very unlikely to show any aggression and will likely disappear into safety before you reach any close distance.
  • If you’re planning to visit an area where pumas or other big cats are known to live, such as parts of Snowdonia, the Clwydian range or even Wepre Park

Big cat encounter tips:

  • Stick to wide, established paths to reduce the chance of an inadvertent ambush
  • Keep small children under close supervision
  • Keep your dog on a short lead and don’t allow it to roam through the undergrowth
  • Avoid walking or hiking alone, especially during dawn, twilight and night time
  • Carry a (charged) mobile phone and ideally a torch
  • Make loud noises as you walk so animals know your approaching and can find safety
  • Consider carrying an air horn or whistle for emergencies

However, should you accidentally corner a big cat, it’s important to make sure your actions don’t make the situation worse.

Tips to help you handle such a situation:

  • Absolutely do not run and avoid sudden movement. You could either scare the animal or trigger a predatory reflex
  • Pick up small children and pets
  • Stay close to others
  • Back away slowly and calmly while keeping sight of the animal
  • Report the sighting to Puma Watch and remember to inform the police if you feel there is any danger
  • Social distancing is important, even outdoors, however, should you encounter a hostile big cat you should group together with anyone nearby, even if they’re outside your household bubble, until you have left the area.