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The Brookmans Park puma
The case against - John Fraser

A puma, sometimes known as mountain lion
photo courtesy of BigCats Online
In case anyone really does think there is a Puma in the area, consider this:

In the wild a Puma has a fairly limited range of about four miles giving it about 50 square miles of territory. A box made up of Hatfield, Cuffley, Potters Bar and Colney Heath, which ties in nicely with where it has been reportedly spotted.

Our puma, not being in its natural habitat, may wander further, but probably avoids large towns, because if it didn't it would be spotted more frequently. It can't be wandering very far outside this box because this is where it's "seen", and I don't think that Brookmans Park has an overly observant population.

A quick web search shows that pumas eat between 900 and 1,300 kg annually. To help visualise this, a sheep weighs between 28 and 51 kg. So a Puma has to eat the equivalent of 18 to 47 sheep ever year. For the sake of credibility, and to keep the maths easy, assume we have a puma that likes to watch its weight and is munching its way through the equivalent of 20 sheep a year.

So that's how much it eats. Now, what is it actually eating? Pumas like moose and caribou, but we are a little short of those in North Mymms. It can't be eating people, or we'd have noticed.

So, for the sake of keeping the units consistent, let's assume it's sheep its eating. And if I were a puma I'd like a slow big slow animal that is fenced into a small area; Assume that the guy who counts the RVC sheep falls asleep half way through, never spotting all the missing ones. Pumas, like all cats, don't eat every bit of their prey, so assume the animal is dragging the carcass back to its layer, somehow managing not to leave a trail, and the un-ingested remains are there.

From this we have to assume that somewhere in Brookmans Park we have a pile of about eighty dead sheep building up for over four years and no-one has noticed! It doesn't sound credible.

Ok, so its not sheep. Then what is it? Cows - and a puma can kill a cow -same problem; Pets, same problem except, as cats and dogs are smaller, we're now talking 100s and people would have noticed all the missing "tiddles" and "fidos."

I know at this point people will say "But Aunty Flora lost her old moggie last year." It's a sad fact that pets do get killed on the roads and never found, cats run away and there are some individuals who sell fur coats at prices that seem a little too low. I've certainly never heard that this area has an unusually high pet attrition rate.

Ok, you're not convinced. So let's assume that our puma lives on a limited number of pets, supplemented with wild birds, rats, fish etc. Fine, but why? In many places pumas are being hunted to extinction because they eat domesticated stock. Think about how fast a rat can move and dodge. Would you try to chase and kill 500 of these things or head up the road to kill just one sheep? Is our puma so smart that it realises which animals we'll miss and thus detect its presence?

Like most wild animals, it wants to avoid man, but this one also knows that if we can prove it exists we will find it, so it avoids leaving any evidence. That is one smart animal!

Ok, its range is much wider. How much wider must it be? I don't know how much sheep are worth, but I'm sure farmers would notice the loss of their equity and report it to the police and the police look for patterns in criminal activity. Even the loss of hundreds of pets over an area the size of Hertfordshire would be noticed, and the more the animal moves around the more lightly it becomes that it will be spotted. Also, again, we have to assume that the puma is smart enough to act to avoid detection.

So what now? Maybe it isn't a puma after all. But what is it then? It can't be bigger than a puma as that would be even more oblivious. We could work our way down a list of smaller cats, but you don't really get anything acceptable until you get to a fox. For the pedantic among us, I know a fox belongs in the dog family, but it is a candidate. Too small to kill people, sheep or most pets, so it has to live on a diet of birds, rats and the odd cat too old to dodge it. A fox I could believe. I've even seen one in my garden.

A puma may be "interesting" but it doesn't exist.

But given that most of us are ignorant of our real local fauna and flora I think there is no reason to feel sad. Grab a book about British wildlife and head down for a walk in Gobions. I discovered only recently that there were snakes there. To me, just as exotic, just as elusive, and a lot less lightly to eat me if ever I do spot one.

John Fraser

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