From The Guardian (London): 4 May 2007 'Horror in a half-shell' byPatrick Barkham
They're aggressive, impart a painful nip, and chomp their way through other pondlife. Hundreds of dumped terrapins are terrorising Hampstead Heath's pools - and now rangers are racing against time to round them up. Bobbing about in their flat-bottomed boat, Ian Shepherd and Bob Gillam have been given the slip. A moment before, the conservation rangers lured a large terrapin into a floating trap on the murky waters of Hampstead Heath's bird-sanctuary pond. Dipping and swishing a large salmon net around the square trap, they can't find the elusive reptile anywhere. Then Shepherd sees why: with its formidable front claws, the red-eared terrapin has ripped off a plastic cable tie and torn away the chicken wire at the corner of the trap before paddling off at high speed. "It's the Steve McQueen of terrapins," sighs Rob Renwick, one of the heath's conservation team leaders. Hampstead has a problem. These American reptiles began life as cute little critters when they were kept as pets during the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-inspired craze of the early 90s. But when they outgrew their owners, scores were dumped into Hampstead's waters. Life in the heath's lush ponds agreed with them and they grew some more. Now up to 150 cruise up and down almost all the 25 main ponds on the 792-acre heath, including the men's and women's bathing pools. Many have swelled to the size of dinner plates, chomping their way through our native species: fish, newts, toads, frogspawn, dragonfly larvae and, possibly, the occasional great crested grebe, coot, moorhen or mallard. There are a growing number of tales of aggressive, illegally released terrapins - "terrorpins" as the tabloids call them - bringing death and destruction to ponds and waterways across the country. Native to the warm swamps of Louisiana and other southern US states, they have been spotted in ponds in north-east England, canals and the Thames. Two years ago, schoolchildren were reduced to tears at a pond in Mill Hill, London, when they apparently saw ducklings being consumed by a group of ravenous terrapins. A mallard was later found with its legs bitten off. Last year a ranger at Hampstead saw a duckling being dragged under water. Terrapin experts at the British Chelonia Group, a tortoise, terrapin and turtle charity, are sceptical of such attacks. Red-eared terrapins, they say, are not known to take birds, although snapping turtles - another rogue species sometimes released into the wild - will kill baby birds. The terrapins have not attacked any swimmers at Hampstead, but they are known for their nip. The males also boast long front claws, which they use in mating. "They have been in the bathing ponds for a while and no one has been bitten but there's a chance it could happen," says Julie Brownbridge, one of the heath's ecologists. "And some carry salmonella, which is another sound reason to get them out." While one park ranger is rather fond of the reptiles and hums the Syd Barrett song Terrapin as he works, Brownbridge fears they are wreaking havoc with the heath's fragile flora and fauna. Last year, they were seen scuttling between ponds and, apparently, scaling a steep hill to reach a pool on the other side of the heath. One was found killed, its shell smashed by an angry angler (terrapins are very unpopular with fishermen). The return of the heroes in a half shell, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello, in the latest Mutant Turtle film, TMNT, has got terrapin aficionados worrying that more people will buy them as pets before chucking them out when they discover just how hungry, messy and disease-ridden they can be. Don Freeman, chairman of the British Chelonia Group, says the "mad craze" when the 1990 film was released caused thousands to be released into the wild. While it is now illegal to import them from America, they can still be bred in captivity and sold as pets. "Dear little things about the size of a 50p piece grow to be as big as the bottom of a bucket," says Freeman. "When they are that size they are a bit of a problem unless you are a devotee - they make a terrible smell, they bite, and they are not terribly friendly animals. If they are put into a small environment like a village pond they will soon decimate all the wildlife in it." As these pond-life terrorists pop out of the water to bask in the spring sunshine, Hampstead's conservationists are taking action. Renwick has little affection for them - "horrible little things," he says - but culling operations tend to attract unwelcome attention from animal rights activists. When the park's rangers looked at the culling option they found it cost the same (£25 per animal) to have them humanely put down by a vet as it would to catch them and send them on a permanent holiday to a terrapin sanctuary in Tuscany. The sanctuary scheme is run by the British Chelonia Group, which has dispatched 700 terrapins in the past three years to a secure reserve blessed with pools warmed by volcanic rock and Italian sunshine. Freeman says that while the terrapins are surviving in British ponds, many are suffering from a climate and diet that does not really suit them. The City of London Authority, which manages the heath, has also accepted an offer from a sanctuary in Norfolk. Hampstead's conservationists hope to catch most of the terrapins by the end of the summer. If not, they fear there is a chance they could breed. One really hot summer, and terrapin numbers could spiral out of control. Four home-made traps are now floating on Hampstead's ponds made of plastic piping fitted together in a square, offering a tempting basking spot for the creatures. Extra plastic mesh on the outside helps the terrapins clamber up, but once they haul themselves out of the water they slip into the centre of the trap, where tough chicken wire should, in theory, prevent them swimming off. Fish is dropped in the central area as an added incentive for the terrapins to turn themselves in. Five have been caught so far, including the troublesome specimen that chose to escape the moment the Guardian arrived. The remaining four are being kept in a child's paddling pool fenced in with chipboard in one of the staff yards. The trap is being repaired, and at the secure paddling pool Renwick is making sure there are no more escapees. The terrapins devour cat biscuits and lounge across some rocks added to the pool to make them comfortable. Has Renwick got names for them? "Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello, of course," he grimaces.
A Beast of Bexley-type creature has reportedly been spotted in Chislehurst. The sighting was reported to Neil Arnold, the founder of the Kent Big Cat Research Group, which studies eyewitness reports of exotic creatures. He claims a woman saw a creature, which she described as the size of a small labrador, in woodland near St Paul's Wood Hill, Chislehurst, last Tuesday. The animal was reportedly moving quickly through trees at around 6pm. Mr Arnold believes the creature is a black leopard. What do you think? Do you believe big cats roam Bexley and areas of Kent? Add your comment below. 4:44pm Saturday 5th May 2007
Tiger ‘could jump fence’ into Regents park. by John Dunne. Friday, 23 March 2007 - Source The London Paper London Zoo has promised a security shake-up after inspectors found that big cats could leap perimeter fences and maul park-goers.Experts from Westminster Council discovered that picnickers, joggers and tourists enjoying neighbouring Regent’s Park face a potential threat from the zoo’s dangerous animals.The animals are kept in high-security compounds but if they did break out, a 6ft perimeter fence would not hold them back for long, according to the inquiry. The inspectors said in their report: “It is a concern that, should there be a dangerous animal escape, it is unlikely that the existing perimeter fence will contain a dangerous animal, like a tiger for example, for a reasonable period of time allowing the capture team to do their work.”The zoo’s Sumatran tigers have an enclosure with a roof but the Asian lions are surrounded by a moat and a brick wall. Zoo director David Field said: “These findings are from very respected colleagues and we will take them on board. We will review our security – as we are always doing anyway – but we are confident that the animals cannot escape. "The inspectors recommended the zoo’s licence be approved despite the security risk and singled out its zookeepers for special praise. If an animal did happen to escape, special “armed” keepers would target it with tranquilliser darts or, in extreme circumstances, live ammunition."
Missing bird of prey found safe and well A MISSING bird of prey with a 10ft wing span has been found safe and well. Crews from Dartford fire station joined the search for Tiny, a condor who went missing during a display at Eagle Heights Bird of Prey Centre, on Sunday. The crew used thermal imaging equipment to try to find the bird, who landed in a rapeseed crop field, close to the centre's grounds in Eynsford. But their efforts were unsuccessful and the search, led by centre staff and RSPCA officials continued. Luckily, Tiny was eventually found during a helicopter search last night. Condors are members of the vulture family and are the largest flying land birds in the western hemisphere. They have black plumage with a frill of white feathers around their necks.
Channel 4 Radio presenter Danny Robin's, covered the so-called 'beast of Sydenham' in his Danny Robin's Investigates...series...you can download the 30 minutes documentary (featuring Neil Arnold) at the link.
In 1975 MP Peter Templemore claimed that, “Someone sooner or later will get killed”, in response to a strange incident at Acton in London where an estranged husband dumped his puma in the back garden of his former home, with wife and kids trapped inside screaming for help. The man left a note saying that he had nowhere else to put the cat, and it took the local police and RSPCA two hours to get the terrified family of the man out of the house.
The South Harrow puma, which was owned by a local man in 1974 who often walked his prized pet through the local streets was one of many large cats owned in the capital. However, on one occasion, during the November of ’74, things got out of control. The owner in question casually strolled into the Farm House pub with his puma on a lead. After a short while several locals began to feel uncomfortable in the presence of the wild animal and so the man was asked to leave. Although he complied with the requests of the staff and customers, the beast didn’t, and in turn went berserk. The landlady at the time commented that, “It took the man fifteen minutes to get the puma out of the pub and into his car, during which it tore off the man’s glove and ripped open his hand”, this was after it had caused severe damage to the chair upholstery in the public house, as well as damaging tables, smashing glasses and demolishing the bar in its frenzy. Then, the cat decided to shred the car seats and the police were called to the scene where, after a short time, they towed both the vehicle and the aggravated felid away. Later, the man was charged with being drunk and incapable. But what happened to his cat ?
This time the large black cat was spotted by Betty Morris. It was stalking the streets around Becton Place, Northumberland Heath. Mrs Morris, 60, was closing her bedroom window at about 10.20pm on April 21 when she saw the cat. She said: "I don't think it is a panther. It was smaller, more like a black leopard, and had a huge long tail." Mrs Morris added: "It sauntered along the road, then stopped under a street light. "It waited while three men walked past on the other side of the road, then sprayed some bushes with its scent before walking off towards some empty garages." She said: "I wanted to take photographs but my camera was in the living room and I was just transfixed. "My husband had just gone out in the car and I called him to tell him there was a leopard going up the road. Then I called Bexleyheath police." 9:50am Tuesday 1st May 2007
'An Arctic penguin crash landed (even though penguin's are flightless!!) in London's Sloane Square, in September 1984 after being "...blown hundreds of miles off course". It was believed to be the first such visitor to London under such conditions on record. Named Marianne, the young bird was looked after by an RSPCA inspector, who released her at Portland Bill, Dorset on 10th October after nursing her back to health.'
Around 1974 one of London's new commercial radio stations ran a report on an unusual bird sighted around West Drayton on the outskirts of the capital. After several puzzling sightings the flying thing was identified as a West African Crowned Crane! Local newspapers featured reports on the bird which had allegedly been around for around two years, or at least a relative had been.