WASHINGTON (AP) — Opponents of the National Security Agency's collection of hundreds of millions of Americans' phone records insist they will press ahead with their challenge to the massive surveillance program after a narrow defeat in the House.
Furious lobbying and last-minute pleas to lawmakers ensured victory for the Obama administration as the House voted 217-205 Wednesday to spare the NSA program. Unbowed, the libertarian-leaning conservatives, tea partyers and liberal Democrats who led the fight said they will try to undo a program they called an unconstitutional intrusion on civil liberties.
Rep. Justin Amash, a 33-year-old Michigan Republican, made his intentions clear through the social media of Twitter: "We came close (205-217). If just 7 Reps had switched their votes, we would have succeeded. Thank YOU for making a difference. We fight on."
The other sponsor of the effort, 84-year-old Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, said the vote's slim margin ensures that vigorous debate on the NSA's programs will continue.
"This discussion is going to be examined continually ... as long as we have this many members in the House of Representatives that are saying it's OK to collect all records you want just as long as you make sure you don't let it go anywhere else,'" said Conyers, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. "That is the beginning of the wrong direction in a democratic society."
The showdown vote marked the first chance for lawmakers to take a stand on the secret surveillance program since former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden leaked classified documents last month that spelled out the monumental scope of the government's activities.
Backing the NSA program were 134 Republicans and 83 Democrats, including House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who typically does not vote, and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. Rejecting the administration's last-minute appeals to save the surveillance operation were 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats.
"I am particularly pleased that members on both sides of the aisle worked together to preserve critical intelligence tools that have proven successful in preventing terrorist attacks and keeping America safe," Boehner said in a statement after the vote.
It is unlikely to be the final word on the worldwide debate over the U.S. government snooping to defend the nation versus the privacy of Americans.
"Have 12 years gone by and our memories faded so badly that we forgot what happened on Sept. 11?" Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in pleading with his colleagues to back the program during House debate.
Amash defended his effort, saying the aim was to end the indiscriminate collection of Americans' phone records.
His measure, offered as an addition to a $598.3 billion defense spending bill for 2014, would have canceled the statutory authority for the NSA program, ending the agency's ability to collect phone records and metadata under the USA Patriot Act unless it identified an individual under investigation.
The House later voted to pass the overall defense bill, 315-109.
Amash told the House that his effort was to defend the Constitution and "defend the privacy of every American."
The unlikely political coalitions were on full display during a brief but spirited House debate.
"Let us not deal in false narratives. Let's deal in facts that will keep Americans safe," said Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., an Intelligence Committee member who implored her colleagues to back a program that she argued was vital in combatting terrorism.
But Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., a senior member of the Judiciary Committee who helped write the USA Patriot Act, insisted "the time has come" to stop the collection of phone records that goes far beyond what he envisioned.
Several Republicans acknowledged the difficulty in balancing civil liberties against national security, but they also expressed suspicion about the Obama administration's implementation of the NSA programs — and anger at National Intelligence Director James Clapper.
Clapper has acknowledged he gave misleading statements to Congress on how much the U.S. spies on Americans. He apologized to lawmakers earlier this month after saying in March that the U.S. does not gather data on citizens — something that Snowden revealed as false by releasing documents showing the NSA collects millions of phone records.
"Right now the balancing is being done by people we do not know, people who lied to this body," said Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C.
With a flurry of letters, statements and tweets, both sides lobbied intensely in the hours prior to the vote in the Republican-controlled House. In a statement, Clapper warned against dismantling a critical intelligence tool.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Congress has authorized — and a Republican and a Democratic president have signed — extensions of the powers to search records and conduct roving wiretaps in pursuit of terrorists.
Two years ago, in a strong bipartisan statement, the Senate voted 72-23 to renew the USA Patriot Act, and the House backed the extension 250-153.
Since the disclosures this year, however, lawmakers have said they were shocked by the scope of the two programs — one to collect records of hundreds of millions of calls and the other allowing the NSA to sweep up Internet usage data from around the world that goes through nine major U.S.-based providers.
Proponents argue that the surveillance operations have been successful in thwarting at least 50 terror plots across 20 countries, including 10 to 12 directed at the United States.
The overall defense spending bill would provide the Pentagon with $512.5 billion for weapons, personnel, aircraft and ships, plus $85.8 billion for the war in Afghanistan for the next budget year.
The total, which is $5.1 billion below current spending, has drawn a veto threat from the White House, which argues that it would force the administration to cut education, health research and other domestic programs in order to boost spending for the Pentagon.
The bill must be reconciled with whatever measure the Democratic-controlled Senate produces.
Heading for Regeneration: Researchers Reactivate Head Regeneration in Regeneration-Deficient Species of Planarians
July 24, 2013 — Rabbits can't do it, neither can frogs, but zebrafish and axolotls can and flatworms are true masters of the craft: regeneration. Why some animals can re-grow lost body parts or organs while others cannot remains a big mystery. And even more intriguing to us regeneration-challenged humans is the question whether one might be able to activate regenerative abilities in species that don't usually regenerate.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden are now one step further in understanding the factors that regulate regeneration. They discovered a crucial molecular switch in the flatworm Dendrocoelum lacteum that decides whether a lost head can be regenerated or not. And what is even more spectacular: The scientists manipulated the genetic circuitry of the worm in such a way as to fully restore its regeneration potential.
In his lab, Jochen Rink, research group leader at the MPI-CBG, usually studies the flatworm species Schmidtea mediterranea. It is known for its excellent regenerative abilities and thus a popular model species in regeneration research: "We can cut the worm to 200 pieces, and 200 new worms will regenerate from each and every piece," Rink explains. Now, for a change, Rink and colleagues brought a different beast into the lab, the flatworm Dendrocoelum lacteum. Even though a close cousin of the regeneration master S. mediterranea, this species had been reported to be incapable of regenerating heads from its posterior body half. "What's the salient difference between the two cousins," the researcher asked?
Together with researchers from the Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden Rink's team searched for an answer amongst the genes of the two species, focusing on the so-called Wnt-signaling pathway. Like a cable link between two computers, signalling pathways transmit information between cells. The Dresden researchers inhibited the signal transducer of the Wnt pathway with RNAi and thus made the cells of the worm believe that the signalling pathway had been switched to "off." Consequently, Dendrocoelum lacteum were able to grow a fully functional head everywhere, even when cut at the very tail.
Re-building a head complete with brain, eyes and all the wiring in between is evidently complicated business. However, as the study showed, regeneration defects are not necessarily irreversible. Jochen Rink is stunned: "We thought we would have to manipulate hundreds of different switches to repair a regeneration defect; now we learned that sometimes only a few nodes may do." Will this knowledge soon be applicable to more complex organisms -- like humans, for example? "We showed that by comparisons amongst related species we can obtain insights into why some animals regenerate while others don't -- that's an important first step."
TOKYO, JAPAN — Japan should acquire amphibious units like the US Marines and surveillance drones, newspapers on Thursday reported a government paper will say this week, as a territorial dispute with China rumbles on.
The interim report, to be issued as early as Friday by the Defense Ministry, will also promote “the need to boost a comprehensive capability of containment” as part of anti-ballistic missile measures against North Korea, reports said.
The phraseology falls short of any mention of “pre-emptive strike capability” but reflects an ongoing debate in Japan’s defense community about the need to reinterpret aspects of the pacifist country’s military stance.
Nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said Japan needs to discuss the idea of having some kind of first strike provision if it is to effectively counter threats from North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
However, observers say he must tread carefully. Japan’s constitutionally prescribed pacifism enjoys wide support in the country at large and is particularly cherished by Abe’s coalition partners, a centrist Buddhist party.
The Asahi and Yomiuri, influential papers on the left and the right, respectively, say the interim report advocates a US Marines-like amphibious force, capable of conducting landing operations on remote islands.
It also suggests looking at the introduction of a drone reconnaissance fleet that could be used to monitor Japan’s far-flung territory.
The report will be reflected in Japan’s long-term defense outline that is expected to be published toward the end of this year, a defense ministry spokesman told AFP, adding that a committee comprising top defense officials has been engaged in discussion on these subjects for several months.
China has become increasingly active in the seas surrounding Japan, including waters near the Tokyo-administered Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, which Beijing claims as the Diaoyu islands.
The row over their ownership, which began decades ago, erupted last September when Japan nationalized three of the islands. It took another turn Wednesday when possibly armed Chinese coastguard vessels sailed through nearby waters for the first time.
Later in the day, Tokyo scrambled fighters to shadow a Chinese reconnaissance aircraft that flew in international airspace in between two Okinawan islands.
It was the first time Beijing had sent a military plane through the gap and out to the Pacific Ocean, Tokyo officials said, adding they saw it as a sign of “China’s ever-growing maritime advance.”
Abe’s administration decided to review the current long-term defense outline, which was drafted by the now-opposition Democratic Party of Japan in 2010.
The hawkish premier this year boosted Japan’s defense budget for the first time in more than a decade against the backdrop of growing concerns about China among many countries in the region.
BEIJING – China says ships from its newly formed coast guard confronted Japanese patrol vessels Friday near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
The State Oceanic Administration, which oversees the service, says four of its ships “sternly declared” China’s sovereignty over the Japan-administered islets, which China claims and calls the Diaoyu and demanded that the Japan Coast Guard ships leave the area.
It was not clear if any action resulted from the Chinese demand. Such sovereignty declarations are usually made by hailing Japanese boats by radio, bullhorn or signal lamps. Japan Coast Guard ships routinely tells the Chinese vessels via the same communications to leave Japan’s territory.
Ships from Chinese civilian agencies have maintained a steady presence in the area since tensions spiked last September following Tokyo’s effective nationalization of the uninhabited islets, which Japan first took possession of in 1895 and China only started exerting its claim to in the 1970s.
Those vessels are being replaced by armed ships from the coast guard, which was formally inaugurated Monday after the resources of four former agencies were merged. China says the move is intended to boost its ability to enforce its maritime claims, upping the stakes in an increasingly tense rivalry for marine territory and resources in waters off its eastern and southeastern coasts.
Chinese Coast Guard ships have also been spotted this week at Mischief Reef off the west coast of the Philippines, according to a confidential Philippine government report. China occupied the vast reef in 1995, sparking protests from rival claimant Manila.
In a claim based on alleged historical precedents that are strongly contested by the Philippines, Vietnam and others, China says virtually the entire South China Sea and its islands fall under its jurisdiction.
While Beijing has mainly used civilian agencies to patrol the waters it claims, the new coast guard gives it greater latitude to do so by centralizing operations within a single body. The body is nominally under civilian control, but closely coordinates with the increasingly formidable Chinese Navy that recently added an aircraft carrier to its fleet.
Coast guard ships are mainly refitted naval or commercial vessels and are equipped with light armaments such as machine guns and deck cannons, unlike in the past when most of China’s patrol craft had no weaponry.
A full moon deprives people of sleep even when they are shielded from moonlight in a windowless lab, a new study suggests.
People snoozed less deeply within four nights of a full moon than during other parts of the lunar cycle, researchers report July 25 in Current Biology. The authors suggest that humans may have internal clocks that track the lunar cycle, much like circadian clocks that sync up with the rise and fall of the sun.
Christian Cajochen of the University of Basel in Switzerland and his colleagues reanalyzed sleep data they had collected over several years from 33 people who had each spent several days half-reclining in bed under constant dim light. Looking at only the second night of each participant’s stay, the researchers found that around the full moon, participants took about five extra minutes to nod off, slept for about 20 minutes less each night and slept less deeply.
The team was surprised to uncover the lunar rhythm, and Cajochen was initially reluctant to share the findings. “If you publish lunar stuff, you are going to be put in the ‘lunatic’ corner and not be considered a serious sleep researcher anymore,” he says.
But other scientists praise the work. “This was done under really controlled laboratory conditions,” says Kenneth Wright, a sleep researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder. It’s the first laboratory study to detect an influence of the moon on human sleep, he says.
The result needs explanation. The shifting gravitational effects of the moon are too weak to influence human bodies, Cajochen says. His hypothesis is that humans have an internal body clock synchronized to the phases of the moon.
An alternative is that participants’ light exposure before the study may have affected their circadian clocks enough to disturb their sleep in the lab. People’s circadian clocks are particularly sensitive to light at night, so extra moonlight before the study might be the simplest explanation for differences during it, says David Dinges, a sleep researcher at the University of Pennsylvania.
Scientists also aren’t sure why humans would have evolved lunar rhythms, though many marine organisms have lunar clocks to keep track of tides, Dinges says. “Stay tuned,” he says. “There’s going to be a lot more research to nail this down.”
Egyptian army questions Mohamed Morsi over alleged Hamas terror links
News of overthrown president's alleged help in 2011 attacks comes as showdown looms between Muslim Brotherhood and opponents
by Patrick Kingsley in Cairo guardian.co.uk, Friday 26 July 2013 06.05 EDT
The overthrown Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, is under investigation for aiding Hamas attacks on Egyptian security facilities during Egypt's 2011 revolution, state media reported on Friday, in the first official update on his status since the Islamist was forced from office and detained incommunicado by the Egyptian army on 3 July.
The news came as Egypt held its breath for a showdown on Friday between supporters of the army and Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.
Millions are expected to fill Egypt's streets on Friday in support of army chief General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who asked on Wednesday for Egyptians to give him a mandate to deal with what he termed terrorism. His speech was seen by sceptics as a thinly veiled attempt to win popular support for a violent crackdown on Morsi supporters. Much of Egyptian media has spent the last month depicting the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies as terrorists. At least seven channels have suspended normal programming to encourage their audience to back Sisi.
With Sisi enjoying widespread popularity, millions are likely to heed his call on Friday by turning out across Egypt – in particular in Cairo's Tahrir Square – to show their backing for his actions. But their demonstrations also coincide with 35 marches across the capital planned by the Muslim Brotherhood, raising the possibility of serious factional fighting. The Muslim Brotherhood's leader, Mohamed Badie, heightened tensions further on Thursday by claiming that Sisi's overthrow of Morsi – following days of mass protests – was a more heinous crime than the destruction of Islam's most sacred shrine.
According to state media, Morsi is under investigation for colluding with the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, during the 2011 uprising that toppled former dictator Hosni Mubarak. It is alleged that Morsi and other senior Muslim Brotherhood figures were rescued from jail during the revolution with help from Hamas, and then helped the Palestinians attack Egyptian police facilities during Mubarak's removal. The Muslim Brotherhood says the fugitives left with the help of locals – and that Hamas had no role in the 2011 uprising.
"It's laughable," said Gehad al-Haddad, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, reacting to the news. "It's every crime that you would think of if you were looking at the 2011 revolution through the eyes of Hosni Mubarak. It's retaliation from the Mubarak state."
Haddad's argument spoke to the belief that Morsi's overthrow has enabled the return of Mubarak-era officials and institutions sidelined by the 2011 revolution.
The decision by Egypt's judiciary to focus their investigations against Morsi on allegations from before his presidency began, rather than on human rights violations that occurred during the presidency itself, indicates that they may be wary of implicating state institutions such as the police, who were also complicit in the torture and killing of protesters under his tenure.
Since Morsi's overthrow, parts of Egypt have been hit regularly by violent protests and counter-protests by those supportive and opposed to his rule. More than 200 Egyptians have already died in clashes between Morsi supporters, opponents and security forces since protests against the ex-president began in late June. Contrary to local media reports, which blame the Brotherhood almost entirely for the unrest, all sides have been party to violence – not least the state. On 8 July, police and soldiers massacred 51 pro-Morsi supporters at a rally outside a military compound in east Cairo.
In turn, Morsi's opponents claim his armed supporters have started other fatal fights – in particular while marching provocatively through neighbourhoods south of Tahrir Square, the cradle of anti-Morsi dissent.
The fighting accompanies a surge in militancy in Sinai – long considered a hotbed of extremism – and a rise in sectarian attacks on Christians in southern Egypt.
Sisi's callout this week is seen as an attempt to get the Brotherhood to leave the streets. Brotherhood leaders are frightened of doing so because they fear an escalation of the current crackdown against senior figures within their group, as exemplified by Friday's charges against Morsi.
Leaving the streets without securing Morsi's return to presidency – the Brotherhood's core albeit perhaps delusional demand – would also cost them significant credibility among supporters.
"It means doing the thing that the Brotherhood can't and won't do right now – giving up their claims to legitimacy," said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha centre, and an expert on political Islam.
"They've been telling their supporters that legitimacy is something worth dying for. They can't just change their minds overnight."
Egypt's Brotherhood stays on streets despite killings
By Maggie Fick and Crispian Balmer CAIRO Sun Jul 28, 2013 9:30am EDT
(Reuters) - Thousands of supporters of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood stood their ground in Cairo on Sunday, saying they would not leave the streets despite "massacres" by security forces who shot dozens of them dead.
Egypt's ambulance service said 72 people were killed in Saturday's violence at a Cairo vigil by supporters of deposed President Mohamed Mursi, triggering global anxiety that the Arab world's most populous country risked plunging into the abyss.
Mursi's Brotherhood, which won repeated elections after the fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011, has vowed not to leave the streets unless Mursi is restored to power. His supporters accuse the military of reversing the uprising that brought democracy to the most populous Arab state.
"They will not be content until they bring back everything from the era of the corrupt, murderous security and intelligence state," senior Brotherhood official Essam el-Erian said on Facebook. "They've stepped up their efforts to do so by committing massacres never before seen in Egyptian history."
Although Cairo was quiet on Sunday morning, violent clashes rattled the Suez Canal city of Port Said, with a 17-year-old youth killed in fighting between the pro- and anti-Mursi camps and a further 29 people injured, security sources said.
The violence has deeply polarized Egypt, with its secular and liberal elite so far showing little sympathy for the Brotherhood or reservations about the return to power of a military which ruled for 60 years before the 2011 uprising.
However, in one of the first signs of doubt from within the interim cabinet installed after the military takeover, Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Ziad Bahaa El-Din said the government must not copy the "oppressive and exclusionary policies" of its foes.
"Our position must remain fixed on the need to provide legal guarantees not only for the members of the Brotherhood, but for every Egyptian citizen. Excessive force is not permitted," El-Din wrote on Facebook.
And in another sign of unease, the Tamarud youth protest movement, which mobilized millions of people against Mursi and has fully backed the army, expressed alarm at an announcement that the interior minister was reviving the feared secret political police shut down after Mubarak was toppled.
The killings took place the morning after mass demonstrations called by military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to show public support for a crackdown on "terrorism", which the Brotherhood sees as justifying an onslaught against it.
In an apparent show of support for the police, a smiling Sisi turned up at a graduation ceremony on Sunday broadcast live on state television, receiving a standing ovation from the recruits, all decked out in starched white uniforms.
Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim hailed him as "Egypt's devoted son".
The military insists it does not want to retain power and aims to hand over to full civilian rule with a "road map" to elections in about six months.
But the very public role of Sisi as face of the new order has led to speculation that the next president could again be a military officer, like all of Egypt's rulers between 1952 and Mursi's election last year.
On Sunday morning army vehicles still surrounded entrances and exits to the square in northeast Cairo where thousands of Mursi supporters have camped out for a month.
Authorities have said they want to clear the activists off the streets, but they were still camped there. Some used pictures of Mursi to shield their heads from the sun. Women and children were resting at tents set near the main gathering area.
"We are right, legitimacy is on our side and hopefully at the end God will lead us to triumph and we will not give up," said Mostafa Ali, 29 from Nile delta town of Mansoura.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said the killings suggested a "shocking willingness" by police and politicians to ratchet up violence against backers of Mursi.
U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay said confrontation was "leading to disaster".
"Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood have the right to protest peacefully like anyone else," she said in a statement. "Egypt stands at a crossroads. The future of this great country that gave so much to civilization depends on how its citizens and authorities act over the following days and months."
The United States, which provides more than $1 billion a year in military aid to Egypt, urged its Middle East ally to pull "back from the brink", telling the security forces to respect the right to peaceful protest.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to two senior government ministers, while Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel talked to Sisi.
The apparent revival of the political secret police is a move that could shake the enthusiasm of some secularists who have otherwise seen little to object to in a government campaign against their Brotherhood enemies.
Citing "extremist and religious activity and things like that", Interior Minister Ibrahim said on Saturday "safety cannot be restored without political security".
Tamarud campaigners issued a statement rejecting the return of any departments tasked with monitoring religious or political activity, arguing that the main aim of Egypt's 2011 revolution was "freedom and social justice".
Close to 300 people have died in violence since Sisi deposed Mursi. Besides the Cairo bloodshed, some of the worse violence has been in the lawless Sinai peninsula, which borders Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, where Islamist militants have vowed to battle government forces after the removal of Mursi.
State news agency MENA said on Sunday that 10 "terrorist elements" in north Sinai had been killed and 20 others arrested in security sweeps over the past 48 hours.
Human Rights Watch's deputy Middle East and North Africa director said in a statement that he thought Saturday's deaths might have been deliberate.
"It is almost impossible to imagine that so many killings would take place without an intention to kill, or at least a criminal disregard for people's lives," Nadim Houry said.
Mursi has been held in army detention at an undisclosed location since he was deposed. Ibrahim said he would likely be transferred shortly to the same Cairo prison where Mubarak is now held, after authorities launched an investigation of him on charges including murder stemming from his 2011 escape from jail during Egypt's the anti-Mubarak uprising.
Was 'beast' seen on aristocrat's estate just a domestic cat?
By Sam Marsden 4:53PM BST 26 Jul 2013
A “big cat” seen on an aristocrat’s country estate may actually be a large breed of domestic cat that has been previously mistaken for a lion, it was suggested today.
Baronet Sir Benjamin Slade has put up warning signs for visitors after a member of his staff photographed the mystery creature in his grounds about a fortnight ago.
The 67-year-old millionaire has nicknamed the creature the “Beast of North Newton” after the Somerset village where his 13th century manor Maunsel House is located.
He believes he has previously seen the animal emerging from a Second World War pillbox nearby, and in recent months he and his staff have found piles of feathers from dead chickens and the mangled remains of a fox.
However, one Telegraph reader is certain that the “beast” was in fact a Maine Coon, the largest breed of domestic cat.
Tim Norris, who has a 15-month-old Maine Coon called Kiki as a pet, said his 12-year-old daughter Samantha instantly identified the animal seen on Sir Benjamin’s estate.
He said: “I was looking at the article and my daughter walked past and said, ‘Maine Coon’, and my wife agreed.
“I rang the breeder we got Kiki from. She said that ‘big cats’ are normally Maine Coons. She said that it’s quite common that they will toughen up and get bigger in the wild because they have got to fend for themselves.”
Mr Norris, 59, of Fontwell, West Sussex, said Maine Coons had been described as “cat-dogs” for their behaviour uncharacteristic of felines.
“They are very very clever animals. They look like cats but that’s as far as it goes. They can easily get to 30lb in weight and come in all colours,” he said.
“I have my doubts about whether they would attack a fox, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they attacked chickens.
“They’re stealthy, they can creep up on you and you would never know. They can adapt to anything.”
A Maine Coon is thought to be behind the panic triggered in the village of St Osyth in Essex last summer after holidaymakers spotted what they believed to be an escaped lion.
Police used helicopters and infrared cameras to carry out a major search for the animal before concluding that it was probably just a large cat or dog.
One woman claimed that the “lion” was in fact her pet cat, a Maine Coon called Teddy Bear, pointing out that he regularly walked through the field where the creature was seen.
Danny Bamping, founder of the British Big Cats Society, said he could not tell whether the photograph taken on Sir Benjamin’s estate showed a real black panther, a horse or just a cuddly toy, but did not rule out the possibility that it was a genuine sighting.
“Like most pictures of big cats in Britain, it is inconclusive because there is no sense of scale and it is blurry,” he said.
The existence of big cats in the British countryside has been debated for decades. Most of the alleged sightings have come since the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act made it illegal to keep untamed pets.
Some experts have suggested that this led to owners of exotic cats, such as pumas or lynxes, simply releasing their animals into the fields.