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The British Lesson

During the 1960's fashionable British trend-setters latched onto large cats as the ultimate fashion "accessory". At the time the height of British chic was the sight of an attractive and fashionably attired young lady walking a leopard, cougar or jaguar through the busy streets of downtown London. However wrongheaded and downright stupid this might have been large cats suddenly became something of a minor craze in the island kingdom and Britain suddenly acquired a fairly substantial population of large, privately owned, feline carnivores. Apart from assuring the cats were healthy upon entering the country the practice was largely unregulated.

In the 1970's following several widely publicized maulings and attacks by cats on their owners or their guests, and riding the wave of the newly fashionable Ecology Movement, Parliament passed several laws that severely restricted private ownership of large carnivores. Minimum cage size requirements (which were huge), high taxes on existing animals, high registration fees, insurance requirements, and draconian fines and jail time for scofflaws made private ownership of large cats practically impossible. With British Zoos already well-stocked and no other outlet for their "pets" an indeterminate number of owners released their animals into the British countryside introducing - for the first time since the Pleistocene - large felid carnivores into England.

A few animals were recaptured, many almost certainly died, but a few managed to make a living on the large sheep and deer populations Britain supported. A few (apparently) even managed to find others of their kind and proceeded to increase and multiply. As a result Britain now boasts a rather extensive collection of predatory big cats living wild in thinly inhabited rural areas. True to their nature the cats are almost never seen but based on the slowly increasing number of attacks on domestic animals it looks like things should be getting interesting in another decade. It reminds me of the midwest fifteen years ago. Keep an eye on the Island Kingdom.

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Cougar, Felix concolor
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Copyright © 2004 Jim Jung
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