St Albans Big Cat mystery solved? Lost savannah cat could be key to controversy

PUBLISHED: 08:28 26 March 2019 | UPDATED: 08:28 26 March 2019

Idris, when he was a kitten, before he went missing. Tina Winch believes the animal pictured in the latest St Albans Big Cat video is Idris. Picture: Tina Winch

Idris, when he was a kitten, before he went missing. Tina Winch believes the animal pictured in the latest St Albans Big Cat video is Idris. Picture: Tina Winch

Archant

Owners of a missing pet believe the St Albans Big Cat pictured in a most recent video is their wild-domestic crossbreed.

For the past few years, multiple sightings, pictures, and videos of a big cat seen across the St Albans district and reported in this newspaper have sparked furious debate in the community - and a most recent release was no exception.

Former sceptic Olly Fairbrother and his wife Natasha recently captured footage showing a spotted feline dashing up and over their garden fence.

However, when St Albans mum Tina Winch saw the film, she said she immediately recognised their family pet Idris - a rare savannah cat who went missing 18 months ago when he was only three years old.

A Herts Ad poll suggests that Idris managed to fool a majority of readers – with 51 per cent of 184 respondents saying they believe the animal in the video is a wild cat.

Idris, when he was a kitten, before he went missing. Tina Winch believes the animal pictured in the latest St Albans Big Cat video is Idris. Picture: Tina WinchIdris, when he was a kitten, before he went missing. Tina Winch believes the animal pictured in the latest St Albans Big Cat video is Idris. Picture: Tina Winch

The breed first emerged in the 1980s when a domestic cat was crossed with a medium-size wild African serval. The biggest versions can reach up to 25 pounds and 17 inches tall.

Idris is an F2 - which is two generations away from the serval - and has the distinctive spotted marking that can be seen in the video.

Tina’s son Ryan bought Idris as a kitten from a family in Maidstone.

She said: “He [Idris] just went out one night and we couldn’t find him.

A screenshot from the footage in the former Fairbrother Farm in St Albans. Picture: Olly FairbrotherA screenshot from the footage in the former Fairbrother Farm in St Albans. Picture: Olly Fairbrother

“We thought he went across the A414 and couldn’t get back and he has been sighted by other people on Hatfield Road.

“We heard sightings but every time we went there he wasn’t there.

“It was horrible because he is a family pet, he is more like a dog than a cat - very friendly, very loving and that is why we couldn’t work out why he had disappeared. They are so different to cats, they are not aloof.”

Tina posted on numerous Facebook groups in her search for Idris and even enlisted the help of the Herts county council highways department in searching along the North Orbital Road.

She has now organised to meet Olly so they can plan how to catch Idris, before checking his microchip to be sure of his identity.

A Freedom of Information request in November 2016 revealed that Herts police received about 30 big cat reports in the five years previous.

Sceptics making contact with the Herts Ad have consistently claimed that eyewitnesses are either mistaken or being deliberately untruthful, and mock the idea of a wild animal in the district - but this backlash has not deterred sightings from flooding into the newsroom.

However, descriptions of the beast have varied - a big black cat was seen by Luton Airport in 2016, a “dusty, sandy coloured” animal was spied prowling a Tewin field in March 2017, and later that year, a large brown feline allegedly darted in front of a car in Jersey Farm.

Residents have also pointed to other forms of ‘evidence’, for example scratch marks found on a tree near Welwyn, a mutilated deer abandoned in a field in Wheathampstead, and large pawprints preserved through an Aldwickbury golf bunker after a night of rain.

Discussion about the topic on social media has always proved controversial and often heated, with critical or sarcastic comments left underneath Herts Ad articles including “lol it’s puddles”, “Is it a slow week? No one stealing wheelie bins?”, “bloody big cats coming over here and taking the small cats jobs, I blame Brexit”, and “what a load of crap the cat in the video is only as high as that little fence”.

On some occasions, witnesses managed to snap pictures and videos of their glimpses - the most notorious film by a taxi driver on Napsbury Lane in 2017.

Numerous theories have also emerged to explain the sightings. For example, in January 2018 resident Jared Leavitt suggested it could be a Scottish subspecies unique to Britain - the European wild cat.

A picture of an unusual looking animal on a St Albans rooftop was dismissed as a fox with serious mange, although when the Herts Ad contacted ZSL Whipsande Zoo, they could not identify the animal.

Expert Dr Terry Moore, honorary director of The Cat Survival Trust, has also weighed in on the discussion, proposing that a wild feline could have come from an illegal private zoo.

Dr Moore himself reports two close-up encounters with pumas in Hatfield, among other sightings.

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