It's on the prowl and it's no pussycat. An escaped panther on a killing spree roams leafy England, but who is the hunter and who is the hunted?
Rosie Flinn is fed up with people looking down on her because she's 'just a dog warden'. She's on a mission to prove them wrong, one that will change her life. Faith and Henry Olembe, a Ghanaian housemaid and her gardener brother, believe the big cat is a spirit of the forest incarnate, sent to destroy those who would desecrate it. Big cat hunter Bob Coulston believes nothing of the sort, but wants to prove that he and his tiger-tracker grandfather were right about big cats living in the wilds of Britain.
This unlikely team comes together in an attempt to achieve what the British Army, the police, and hundreds of beer-swilling bounty hunters cannot do. They set out to stop the man-eater before it can kill again.
Author: Jack Churchill
eBook: $3.99 / £2.99 (inc.VAT) Publication: April 18th 2013
Cover Photo: Taken by Martin Belderson in a wildlife rescue sanctuary in Bangkok. Thai police had seized the black panther from wildlife smugglers. Malnourished and emaciated, it died a few days later.
Jack Churchill is a pen name used by myself, Martin Belderson, to avoid confusion between my fiction, documentary films and non-fiction books.
That Big Cat Ring Tone
If you want to check out Bob Coulston's terrible taste in ring tones, click on the this link, . It's a keyword search of music on Amazon. And here's a keyword music search for . Of course, by far the best big cat track is David Bowie's contribution to the soundtrack. And Rosie would agree too.
My Big Cat Encounters
There have been quite a few over the years, but here are the ones that inspired this book. They both involve close encounters where I never saw the big cats. It made those occasions even more terrifying.
Up a Tree Without a Gun
Most of the time, you don't know when big cats are close, not even tigers. Especially not tigers.
We were filming in the Terai of Nepal, along the stretch where the River Karnali edges into Bardia National Park. Late afternoon, I l drove out of our camp with our guide, Bahadur Gurung, and half a dozen porters to collect the dive team attempting to film the river dolphins. They had a lot of scuba gear: compressors, lead weights, tanks, wetsuits and a bulky underwater housing for the camera, plus half a dozen porters of their own and a couple of armed guards. On arrival, we discovered that their Landrover had broken down. I realised we could not cram the mountain of gear, plus people, into the only working vehicle, so we filled our Landcruiser with the equipment and sent it on the half-hour trip back to camp. It would then return with the spare Landrover.
Dusk fell. It gets cold quickly in the Himalayan foothills. We huddled beneath the forest trees at the trailhead, hundreds of metres from the river. Bahadur, a member of Nepal’s most renowned family of tiger trackers, sniffed the air. There was no wind, just a strange smell. Like a sweet-scented latrine.
“Tiger,” he said. “It is very close, and It is watching us. Only a few metres away.”
I could see nothing except dark trees and even darker shadows.
Between all eighteen of us, we carried just two rifles.
“Surely it won’t dare attack so many of us, even if we’re unarmed? I said. It was a stupid question. Tigers fear no human.
“Up into the tree, quick,” said the tracker. We were all stood beneath the boughs of a large tree. “Quick.”
I realised that calm, steady Bahadur, a man who had encountered tigers on hundreds of occasions, was scared. “It is when the tiger can see you, but you cannot see it, that you are in danger,” he said as he pushed me towards the tree trunk.
The two armed guards were detailed to face outwards whilst the rest of us gave leg ups to those first to clamber onto the lowermost branches. They in turn helped pull us up until only the guards remained on the ground. At close range, two rifles are not enough to kill a tiger before it kills you.
At last, we dragged them up. With hindsight, I realise a tree is not a great place of safety. Tigers can climb. We watched and waited. Ten minutes. Twenty minutes. An hour. All that time I looked for the tiger. All that time I could smell it. I never saw it. No one did.When the vehicles arrived, we dropped onto the their roofs like ripe fruit from the tree. Then, still terrified, we swung inside without our feet touching the ground. Cirque du Soleil would have been proud of us.
A Leopard Outside the Tent
are killers. More people are slain worldwide by
them every year than by tigers.
It’s in part due to numbers. Tigers are rare; leopards are not. They are stealthy hunters and adult humans are targeted rarely. That's because they have the raw power of the biggest cats. Instead, they concentrate on smaller prey. Along the Himalaya-Karakorum ranges, leopards sneak into huts and take sleeping babes from their cribs, escaping into the night before the parents can react.
camping in the north of Bardia, using bait in a
unsuccessful attempt to film a tiger.
It was Richard, the cameraman, who found the leopard’s tracks around his tent. The pugmarks were big, probably a male. I checked my tent. The same paw prints circled it.
“You realise it came within inches of us?” said Richard. “Only the canvas of the tents separated us from it.”
That night I went to bed with a rifle at my side. I lay awake listening to the distant cough of the leopard as it patrolled its territory. It didn't come back, but these tracks are taken from the photo I took of the prints it left behind that first night.
Big Cats in Britain
There is no doubt big cats can survive in the British countryside. They have done so in the recent past. Everything Bob Coulston says about them in the book is factually accurate (apart from the bit about medieval knights and the Black Dog). For example, as mentioned in Big Cat, Inverness Museum & Art Gallery is indeed the proud owner of Felicity, a female puma caught in 1980. She died of old age in captivity and now sits in the museum stuffed and on display. You can even listen to an of the puma growling after her capture.
Felicity is not alone. Here’s a video about an alleged attack by a black panther. I shot the story for ITV Network’s 3D current affairs series. It features the Surrey Puma and an alleged attack in Inkberrow, Worcestershire. You’ll see where many of the ideas for the novel came from.