Felines are best known for climbing trees, long tails, sharp claws and a taste for birds. But some are a lot bigger than your average household kitty. SCOTT MULLINS attempts to solve the continuing mystery of News Shopper’s big cats.

IT SEEMED like any other day for Helen Barrett when she took a woodland walk with her family earlier this month. But that changed when she claimed the 5ft Palace Puma stalked out of the undergrowth and fearlessly approached her.

Understandably the 41-year-old turned and fled, later describing her encounter in Crystal Palace as “alarming”.

“As first we couldn’t believe what we were seeing,” she recounted.

“It was black, the size of a labrador, but walking like a cat.”

Mrs Barrett’s run-in with the Palace Puma isn’t the first - and probably won’t be the last - confrontation between man and beast in south east London and north Kent, according to the founder of the Kent Big Cat Research Group, Neil Arnold.

The big cat expert says decades of sightings are a result of large exotic cats being released into the wild by their owners in 1976, when they were forced to buy expensive licences to keep them.

Mr Arnold speculates sightings of pumas and panthers are the offspring of these “pets”.

Speaking on his website, he explains: “The future will see a significant population explosion as cubs of current exotic cats become fully grown and breed themselves.

“These cats will be top of the predatory food chain, eventually decimating rabbit and fox populations in certain areas and causing much alarm amongst local ramblers.”

Two of the more high profile big cats in south east London include the Beast of Bexley and the Beast of Sydenham.


The Kent Big Cat Research Group says the majority of big cats reported are likely to be black leopards or pumas, but warns other species might be on the prowl.

Lynx - Has three coat patterns, appearing rustic, yellowish, spotted and striped. The lynx is a medium-sized cat with long fur on the paws. Ears are tufted with black backs and both male and female lynx have cheek beards.

Bobcat - Highly adaptable feline although extremely elusive, preferring to hunt at night where it feeds off rabbits, deer and rodents. Kills its prey with a neck bite and buries uneaten food.

Caracal - May be confused with the Lynx or Bobcat but is smaller and omits a bird-like chirp. Feeds on small animals such as rabbits, birds and rodents and obtains its liquids from its prey.


Over the years, News Shopper has reported on a number of big cats apparently stalking the suburbs of the capital.

Sydenham, March 2005 - Police warn people to be on their guard after a man claimed he was attacked in his back garden in Sydenham Park.

Eltham, April 2005 - Laura Downes described “horrendous” scenes in her garden in Westmount Road after she discovered the mutilated corpses of foxes. The British Big Cat Society confirmed a big cat could have been to blame.

Sidcup, February 2006 - Mum-of-three Debbie Marshall snapped a picture of a “tiger-like” beast at the bottom of her garden in Crombie Road.

Dartford, December 2006 - Drivers twice reported seeing a big, black cat crossing the road near Dartford Heath at 2am.

Gravesend, December 2006 - A couple contacted the Kent Big Cat Research Group after spotting a pigeon-hunting puma scale a 50ft tree in Thong Lane

Bexley, March 2007 - The Beast of Bexley was spotted again in Cold Blow Crescent after spooking a paddock of horses.

Thamesmead, August 2008 - A man was woken at 3am in Goldfinch Road to find a black animal rolling on the grass between two trees. He said at the time: “Bloody hell! That’s the biggest moggy I’ve ever seen.”

Crystal Palace, August 2009 - Helen Barrett stumbles upon the Palace Puma in woods between Auckland Road and Church Road.