The St Osyth big cat sighting: Getting your lions crossed

AS a farmer I’m lucky enough to spend most my working hours outdoors in the British countryside. With my binoculars beside me in the cab I’m seldom short of something interesting to see.

Occasionally you even spy something unusual that needs a double take to check you actually saw what you thought you saw.

From an escaped eagle owl sitting on a seed trailer to a couple having sex in a deckchair in the middle of a flowering rape crop, I’ve seen many remarkable sights that will stay with me until the rest of my days. But here’s the thing, while I’ve seen plenty of household cats in my fields, I’ve never seen a big cat. No Pumas in my paddocks, no Lynx in my linseed, not even so much as an Ocelot outside my office.

Now, before I ignite the EADT letters page with howls of rude protest let me add that I’m not saying those who bear witness to seeing big cats roaming East Anglia are liars but until I see one with my own eyes I remain sceptical as to what was actually seen.

Call me a cynic but I tend to file sightings of super felines along with reports of UFOs. Despite hundreds of sightings of such things, no one has ever produced clear photographic evidence, even in an age where everyone carries camera phones. What’s more, no one has ever produced a dead one. While our roads are often festooned with large mammals such as deer, foxes and badgers, for some reason nothing exotic has turned up as road-kill.

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So when my farming neighbour phoned up last Sunday afternoon to say a caravanner had mistaken a cat for a lion in one of his wheat stubbles, we both had a good laugh. When he phoned up two hours later to say there was two police helicopters over head along with nineteen armed police marksmen in his yard and he was under curfew having been told not to leave his house, we both thought that someone had forgotten there are limits as to what makes for a practical joke.

But that wasn’t the end of it. With hours #Essexlion and #stosyth were trending on Twitter surpassing the recently announced death of Neil Armstrong – one of history’s greatest men. By first light the following morning the nation’s media were camped outside a previously unheard of Essex farm and ‘Lion on the loose’ was the second item on the national BBC News, only surpassed by the civil war in Syria.

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So my conclusion to all this farrago is this, next time you see a cat like creature at distance in the countryside assume it’s probably a just a cat rather than a cougar. Give normality the benefit of the doubt. And as for two legged Cougars stalking the environs of Clacton looking for fresh meat, yes there was a lot of texted and twittered humour floating around that bank holiday week-end.

The laughter in the pub that night was so raucous that I was still roaring as I walked back home. That probably got reported to the police as well.

Guy Smith farms the savannah of north east essex where he neighbours the farm where the Essex lion was first seen

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