Over the weekend I and a bunch of others from the Southampton Natural History Society visited the collections at the County Museum, Winchester (Hampshire, UK). This is a research collection and local repository, and is not open to the public. We saw tons of stuff and had a great time. I took Will (my 7-year-old) along, and he loved it, spending literally hours looking through drawers of pinned insects and at stuffed things in cases. I see every indication that kids are naturally fascinated by animals and other living things: it’s just that this interest is often not switched on at the right moment, nor is it nurtured or encouraged.
Anyway, in the photos here you can see one of the neatest things in the collection (from my entirely tetrapodocentric perspective of course): it’s the Hayling Island Jungle cat, here being held [image below] by senior keeper of natural sciences Dr Chris Palmer. The Jungle cat or Swamp cat Felis chaus is an Old World felid that occurs from Egypt in the west to southern China in the east. It’s not native to Europe, at least not nowadays. So, when one was run over and killed by a car on Hayling Island, Hampshire, in July 1988, most people were surprised. Another dead one was found in 1989 near Ludlow, Shropshire: back injuries and an underweight condition led to the suggestion that it had starved after being injured by a car (Shuker 1995a, b). British cryptozoologist Karl Shuker now owns this specimen. You might be somewhat surprised to hear that none of this has been reported in the peer-reviewed literature. I’d write it up myself, but I’m kind of busy with other stuff.
What are Jungle cats doing at large in the UK? Based on sightings and photos, it seems that a number are feral here. A particularly good photo of one was taken in 1992 in Durham, and what seem to have been Jungle cats were seen on Hayling Island and in the Ludlow area prior to the discovery of the 1988 and 1989 corpses. Sightings continue on Hayling Island at least. It’s likely that at least some claimed ‘big cat’ sightings made in Britain are of Jungle cats, given that this animal is larger than a domestic cat and that – on seeing one – most laypeople would misidentify it as a puma or lynx. It has also been proposed that British Jungle cats may be hybridising with domestic cats, given the discovery in the Ludlow area of several animals that look like hybrids (Shuker 1993, 1995b). Jungle cats and domestic cats can and do hybridise, and their offspring are fertile.
Presumably, the British Jungle cats are escapees from collections. As you’ll know if you’re read Britain’s lost lynxes and wildcats, or as you might know anyway, the species was present in Britain during the Pleistocene (Schreve 2001a, b). However, there’s no indication that it persisted into the Holocene. The behaviour of the species in Africa and Asia also indicates that it would be well able to survive in Britain. It adapts well to the presence of humans and can often be found in the vicinity of towns and villages (Nowak 1999). About 70% of its diet is made up of small mammals (mostly lagomorphs and rodents), and there are plenty of those in the British countryside (lagomorphs in particular of course).
Anyway… as always, seeing a ‘famous’ specimen in person, as it were, was a neat event that I wanted to share. Thanks to Chris Palmer for access to the collections. And having mentioned Hayling Island, you might recall that this was the place that made me want to write about godwits.
Refs – –
Nowak, R. M. 1999. Walker’s Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition . The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
Schreve, D. C. 2001a. Mammalian evidence from Middle Pleistocene fluvial sequences for complex environmental change at the oxygen isotope substage level. Quaternary International 79, 65-74.
– . 2001b. Differentiation of the British late Middle Pleistocene interglacials: the evidence from mammalian biostratigraphy. Quaternary Science Reviews 20, 1693-1705.
Shuker, K. P. N. 1993. The lovecats. Fortean Times 68, 50-51.
– . 1995a. British mystery cats – the bodies of evidence. Fortean Studies 2, 143-152.
– . 1995b. The coming of supercat! Wild About Animals 1995 (1), 20-21.