Tweets spread quickly today after nationalrainenq, the twitter account of ‘National Rail’, tweeted ‘Passengers are currently unable to alight from trains at Shepley due to reports by police of a lion in the area.’ It was then tweeted that the police had given the all clear and that passengers were allowed to leave the train as usual, and this evening an article appeared on The Guardian site entitled ‘Train affected by lion ‘sighting’. It stated:
Inspector Carlton Young, of West Yorkshire Police, said: “We’ve had unconfirmed reports of a lion or a lion cub in the area. We’ve had officers looking around. At the moment we’ve had nothing confirmed and we’ve not located anyone who is claiming to have lost an animal.”
Officers believe the woman – who claimed to have seen a lion on Penistone Road, Shepley – was a genuine caller. Around 12 officers were dispatched to look for a lion along with a police helicopter.
Insp Young added that the search would be resumed on Monday if there were any more reports.
It’s not unusual for people to think they’ve seen something that looks like a big cat. It happens quite often and I have blogged before about my research into a case of such a thing happening in Wiltshire recently.
Often the reports of big cats are misidentifications of other animals as big cats, such as large dogs or actual domestic cats (which was the case with the big cat spotted in the village I grew up in. A photo taken of a cat in a field that was reported to be a panther was actually a domestic cat), or sometimes the cats can be actual big cats that may have escaped or been illegally released from a private collection.
The interesting thing that happens once these cases hit the newspapers though is a sort of echo effect that sees people interpret something they see as a big cat when they normally wouldn’t have done. The recent case of ‘The beast of Trowbridge‘ was a great example of this.
I myself fell victim to the echo effect created by the reporting of The Beast of Trowbridge after seeing a black animal running along the canal near my home, I remember being so shocked I couldn’t move as I thought ‘oh my god! I’ve seen the cat!‘. A few seconds passed and the ‘cat’ came back into my view and I realised it was actually a black whippet off of its lead. I haven’t ever been as scared as I was in those few moments. Had I not stuck around to see it again and recognise it as a whippet I would probably still believe I had seen a panther yards from my home.
I am not denying that there are big cats in the wilds of England, in fact it’s very likely that there are, however there is also no denying that the way that cat sightings are reported in the media has a lot to do with the amount of cat sightings that are reported. Not only that, but I can remember a ten year old Hayley Stevens being terrified of going outside after it was reported in the local paper that a panther had been captured on camera in the village she grew up in…
p.s. don’t panic. IF a big cat is out there, they’re usually quite elusive creatures that wont bother you unless you bother them or make them feel threatened. Big cats also have large territories, so several sightings could actually be just one cat rather than loads.