Sighting of Essex “black panther” (Update: Dog)

Another reported sighting of a big cat in the U.K. Still, it’s inconclusive.

‘Black panther’ spotted prowling on the edge of Hatfield Forest | Uttlesford village headlines.

AN “unfamiliar” creature, suspected to be a black panther, was spotted on the prowl in a field in Great Hallingbury on Monday (March 10).

The animal was on land overlooked by the home of Lynn and Michael Lacey [published as 'Lacy' in other sources], who live in a converted barn in Howe Green, at around 3.30pm.

Lynn Lacy described it as having a “long tail swishing from side to side” being “jet black” with “head down and prowling”. She is used to seeing various animals through here but reports, “It was unfamiliar and walked in an unfamiliar way.”

There have been many reported sightings of a large cat in this area. Also, there have been reports of attacks on livestock. Many have turned out to be false alarms, regular animals, not exotic ones.

Since this story broke there seems to have been no further corroboration or refutation of the sighting. Here is the picture.

Photo from Lynn Lacey

Photo from Lynn Lacy

It certainly looks cat-like but the size is not distinguishable.

I inquired with a few people and will update if I hear anything more on this story.

In August 2012, officials in St. Osyth were called out for a report of a lion that turned out to be a very fluffy house cat in a field. And people like to pull pranks regarding the sighting of a big cat in these forests.

UPDATE: David James (@StortSkeptic) corresponded with the witness via twitter. She admits that it might be a dog. However, she notes that the reporter got the story wrong when she said that she had seen any dog/cat in the field before.

UPDATE (13-March-2014) According to James, neighbors are saying this is a photo of a local dog that is often in that field. Perhaps people might do a bit more investigating before running off to the newspaper media and blowing up a non-story.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 8.20.08 AM

Tip: David James

  4 comments for “Sighting of Essex “black panther” (Update: Dog)

  1. Count Otto Black
    March 12, 2014 at 8:25 PM

    I live in Scotland, and back in the Eighties I was in the Highlands when the first UK “big weird black cat” media panic since the Surrey Puma broke out. I never saw anything myself, but in those pre-internet days the local press got as excited about it as nowadays the world would, however briefly. It eventually turned out that “melanistic wildcats” were the culprits. I’m not sure if it was ever resolved whether these were actually mutants or merely normal wildcats interbred with domestic cats (which, since domestic cats have mixed African and European wildcat DNA, basically means the same as “feral cat”), but the point is, large wild black cats were indeed being seen by the locals, however implausible that may have seemed until it turned out to be true.

    However, the actual size of these animals was maybe twice that of an average house-cat at most, which is fairly big, but well within the plausible range for a domestic pet, and nowhere near the reported “panther” dimensions. People see these things and report them fairly accurately, but the one thing they always get wrong is the size. If the rumor-mill primes you to see a panther, then you assume that’s what you’re seeing unless there’s a visual clue that makes it absolutely clear how big it really is. The animal in the photo above is obvious not a domestic cat – the tail’s far too small – but I’d give you odds of 1000-1 that it’s a dog, probably a black labrador. I’d also give you pretty good odds that the lady who took that photo is not a hoaxer, has nothing mentally wrong with her, and took the picture in perfectly good faith.

    • March 12, 2014 at 8:49 PM

      oh I agree. There is no scale in the picture. A large domestic cat is certainly reasonable.

  2. paul paterson
    March 17, 2014 at 11:13 AM

    I would go a step further if a breeding population of these animals existed hard evidence would be abundant and commonplace Its absence shows that there is no such population with the possible exception of the very occasional fugitive, the beasts reported by so many sober upright, reputable people are imaginary said George Monibot: The Never-Spotted Leopard,May 22, 2013 …… No “big cats” free, wild within the mainland UK and No evidence whatsoever to show or prove it let alone show that they are breeding, as many do believe

    But there’s the key word – imaginary. Is this big cat real or is it an illusion? The blurred photograph (why so shaky, was it fear or fake fear?) reveals what genre this picture belongs to. It’s summer and the monster animal snaps are here. Remarkably, the warm summer has not yet produced any sightings of great white sharks off Cornwall or kraken near Anglesey, but here’s an animal mystery to spice up those country walks. Beware the possible puma!

    For a good explanation of the “Fen Tiger” have a read at Linton Zoo’s page:
    http://www.lintonzoo.com/fentiger.html
    “A spokeswoman said: “None of the sightings of big cats have ever been confirmed and the evidence of all the sightings we have been asked to look at has either been unsubstantiated or has been attributed to other causes. From time to time big cats do escape from zoos or other collections and are usually recaptured very quickly. We are confident that there is no breeding population of big cats in this country.” (Natural England)

    In 1976 the Dangerous Wild Animals Act (official website) was introduced in the United Kingdom, back then it was highly fashionable to keep exotic pets often the more dangerous species. The frequency of which was seen as a risk to the public and questions were being raised about the welfare of the animals, as well as hybrids becoming more frequent between wild and domestic species such as Bengals and Ocicats.

    The purpose of the Act was to ensure that when private individuals keep dangerous wild animals they do so in circumstances which do not create risk to the public and safeguard the welfare of the animals. Keeping such animals without a licence became unlawful and the strict guidelines were set as to where and how the animal is to be kept. The law also requires keepers to have their animals covered by a satisfactory liability insurance policy. Many species are covered in the act including many primates, large or venomous reptiles, dangerous spiders and scorpions and of course big cats and other carnivores.

    The introduction of this act meant that many people who had animals included in the Dangerous Wild Animals Act were unable to keep their animals so had to seek new homes for them or face serious charges. This led to many animals being donated to zoos, moved out of the country, killed or in some cases just released into the wild – which of course is where we get some of the argument about big cats in the wild.

    It is quite possible that some big cats were allowed to roam free in the countryside, however, this was 34 years ago. No cat however big or well looked after lives more than around 20 years, in the wild you’d expect somewhere around 12 to 14 years old.

    Which leads many people onto the argument that the newly wild animals could have met others that were released, mated and have since started several generations of big cats. Anyone who has any experience of working with animals, especially big cats can tell you that there is much more to it than putting a male and a female together and bingo you get babies. Even within international breeding programmes where only small populations of animals are available for breeding and these programmes are run by extremely experienced and knowledgeable people there is potential for problems to occur. Inbreeding from small populations of some cat species can lead to gross deformities and infertility. The sheer number of animals that you would need in the wild to be able to viably keep a health population going, means that we probably should be seeing these animals or at least regular signs of them all over the place by now. One thing to consider is why the hunts and shoot beaters have not flushed out cubs (which are not streetwise) or adults from the safety of their cover. (Linton Zoo)

  3. essex big cat
    May 11, 2014 at 7:23 AM

    This is clearly a dog, (lurcher type).. just look at its tail..
    However i myself have seen a pather type creature in the fields between Elsenham & Henham, which is approx 3-4 miles from this sighting. It was a boxing day morning, about 8am, i was walking my greyhound, when i saw the animal about 100 yards ahead of me.. as i say i had my greyhound with me, i could clearly see its body size, (about 3 feet long, but what noticed more more was the size of its tail, (that was also about 3 feet long) and as thick as my arm!.. it spotted us and slank away into the undergrowth, needless to say i didnt follow it.
    but having had or been around greyhounds since i was a kid, i can confidently say that this WAS a big cat.

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