Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mythbusters: Alien Big Cats.

Now, here's a question: When does a cryptid stop being a cryptid? By definition, a cryptid's existence has to be disputed by science. Science disputes a lot of things; hell, take a look at quantum physics and String Theory sometime. Nitpicking is super-common in scientific circles, and cryptozoology is no exception.

Within the (unrecognized) discipline of cryptozoology, sightings of big cats outside of their native ranges qualify as cryptids. They are called "Alien Big Cats" (ABCs) or "Phantom Cats." ABC's have been found in most areas of the world. They often generate local legends, given enough time. Some are considered Ice Age "living fossils," but most of them can be traced to extant species. I know what you're thinking: Extraterrestrial cats would be pretty awesome, too.

Although found throughout the world, Great Britain seems like a real hotspot for ABC's. They are usually pumas, panthers, or general large black cats. The first sighting of a 'weird' big cat in Britain was a report of a North American lynx in 1760. The sightings really hit a boom in the 1960's, and then again after a law made in 1976 banned the keeping of several wild animals, including most big cats. This could easily have led to a mass-release of a genetically-diverse population.

According to the ten definitions of a cryptid by a man named Eberhart, Alien Big Cats fall under the "distribution anomaly" type of cryptid. Bless this man for trying to make a method to the madness that is cryptozoology. Note, however, one of the disqualifiers: "Erratics. "The out-of-place alligator […] that turns up in an odd spot, undoubtedly through human agency, is not a zoological mystery […]" The recent sightings in the 20th century speak of human release. The Scottish wildcat hybridizing with normal cats is also a common source of ABC's.

When it comes to ABCs, we know what we're dealing with. These aren't mythical creatures. These aren't even extinct creatures. These are mostly non-native species with full documentation. The only mystery is how the cats got there. Human intervention can easily be assumed, especially since many big cats wind up with irresponsible owners. Is every invasive species and escaped exotic pet on par with Nessie and Bigfoot, now?

Granted, there are some truly mysterious Alien Big Cats. India has a gray phantom cat, the Pogeyan,  that we really do not know much about. One ABC even turned out to be a canine. Some mythology buffs like to think that the sightings of black cats are a modern variation on Britain's legendary black dogs (which should be familiar to Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes fans). I'm not doubting whether these Alien Big Cats exist or not; I'm questioning how science classifies them.

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