Snowy Tracks Evidence of a Big Cat?

Prints similar to these were discovered near one village, but were they a big cat or wolf?It’s been thirty years since the first sighting by villagers of the massive cat in the lonely Lincolnshire Woods.  Since then, the reports have been both overwhelmingly prolific and dramatic.  Some say the creature spotted in the woods is the most peculiar thing they’ve ever seen while others are convinced it’s a big dog.  Tracks found in the snow may now be the final proof that there really is something to the big cat hysteria going about.

The tracks begin and end in thick undergrowth on a fresh patch of untouched snow.  They’re four and a half inches long from heel to claw tip (more on that later) and have a three foot stride.  The man discovering the mysterious prints, Adrian Campbell, was walking along admiring the snow when suddenly he discovered the large mysterious tracks stretching some 200 feet nearby a rarely tended stretch of land near his office.  The location, according to some, is the perfect place for a creature such as a big cat to hide, undiscovered by humans for years.

When examining tracks left behind, it’s important to understand that the typical big cat has very similar tracks to a dog, but there are some very specific methods trackers use to determine the difference.  First of all, it’s important to take into account the size and shape of the tracks.  While these tracks are large, (certainly larger than what we would expect from a dog) they are also longer than they are wide.  Dog tracks are longer oval shapes, while big cats are typically rounder and more squatted.  In addition, the tracks at the front of the shapes are indicative of dogs rather than cats, as cats will often retract their claws as they walk.  Since cats require large feet for even weight distribution while stalking, their feet must come down gradually and evenly while dogs, descended from wolves, often rely on speed and networking with others to bring down prey.  The visible claw marks on the front and size and shape are not, however, enough to conclusively indicate the paws are dog or cat prints.  The real proof would be the rear of the paw print.  Had the prints been made in mud, rather than snow, the rear of the print could be more easily examined.  Dogs have two bumps on the rear of their paws at the heel, while cats almost universally have three.  Unfortunately, while the other aspects do  seem to at least indicate a dog’s print, the size calls it seriously into question.  Perhaps the animal authorities should really be looking for is a canine of unusually large size.

The prints are getting a second look, however, because residents in the area have been reportedly seeing a big cat for a little over thirty years.  If it is just one animal out there, it is incredibly ancient if not somehow imbued with unnaturally long life.  Trackers in the area are overwhelmed by a staggering 20,000 big cat sightings in the area since 2000.  Is there really something to this big cat story?  Or is the whole thing merely a tall tail?