London has increasingly become home to lots of different exotic animals, including snakes, parakeets, skunks and… a deadly panther?
Each morning I get rudely awakened. Not by the dustman, but by something rather more exotic – parrots. I wouldn’t mind this happening if I lived somewhere similarly exotic, and was about to embark on a day of lounging on the beach in Bora Bora. But no, I live just off the A2 in South East London. So what the bloody hell are bright green parrots doing nesting in my bathroom extractor fan?
It turns out that London is actually home to a variety of fauna that you’d expect to be more at home in the deserts and jungles of the world. I thought I’d see if I could track a few down, and figure out how they got here in the first place.
Let’s start with my own noisy bastards. As it happens, these aren’t actually Parrots, but their smaller relatives – Parakeets (nope, I don’t know what the difference is either). It turns out that Blackheath and Greenwich now have around 500 mating pairs living quite happily in the trees and parks.
How they got there is something of a mystery, but the stories behind it are as colourful as the birds themselves. The most ‘accepted’ tale sees our brightly-plumaged friends turning up in the early 50s, as a few dozen saw fit to hightail it out of Shepperton studios, where they were being used in the filming of the Bogart/Hepburn classic The African Queen.
This sounds vaguely plausible. Other theories do not. One of the other… leading ideas is that Jimi Hendrix bred and released them on purpose. Because that’s what you’d do if you were a Soho-based guitar genius in the 60s isn’t it? Drive to fucking Eltham and release a load of parrots. To be fair he did weirder stuff.
Aesculapian snakes to be exact. These are hardly the only scaly fuckers living in Camden Lock, but they are some of the biggest. A full-grown one can get up to about eight feet in length if it manages to avoid a diet of leftover kebabs and crusty punks.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, if you like your wildlife stories infused with peril), these guys aren’t venomous, and contrary to what the Daily Star would have you believe, they won’t crush your children or pets. In fact, they are actually helping get rid of a few big ‘ol rats down under the bridge. They seem to have arrived from Europe, but nobody has a clue who released them into the canal, or what the hell they thought they were doing.
Yep. A few years back you could own a Skunk as a pet if you fancied it. You could even have their stink-gland removed first.
Fortunately for the Skunks, that’s now illegal. Unfortunately for us, it means there’s a few fully-functioning biological weapons roaming the woods around London town.
Skunks are actually pretty cute, and can eat almost anything so it’s easy enough to see how a few ex-pets could have survived, but unless you really, really enjoy stinking like a pile of burning diapers and cheese for seven weeks, if you see one, leg it.
Highgate cemetery is home to a wide range of animal life. Ducks. Owls. Deer. A Vampire Ghost. And as of 2013, at least a couple of Wallabies. It’s a bit of a mystery how these guys got in there, because there’s a seven-foot tall fence running around the entire site.
That said, it doesn’t seem to deter the Goths either, so it is possibly the Kangaroo’s smaller cousins could have found a hole and squeezed in.
it’s actually a decent place for them to live, with plenty of grass and flowering plants to eat, and no passing traffic. It turns out there are a few pockets of these guys living around the UK, but how they got to London is anyone’s guess.
A FUCKING PANTHER
Fuck yeah – a deadly beast at last! Of course, being an exciting, deadly animal, no one has an actual picture of this thing, but there have been several reports of something big and black that ye should be afeard of roaming around Sydenham as recently as 2015.
It’s long been suspected that when the laws regarding the ownership of dangerous animals changed in the 1970s, a few bloody stupid hippies and rockstars decided to avoid paying to dispose of their private menageries and instead just release a bunch of bloody great Tigers and Leopards into to Forest of Dean, or wherever their country manse happened to be, and it seems London was not immune.
Panthers usually eat pigs and deer, but they’ll also quite happily munch on pigeons and rabbit (and the occasional small dog), so it’s quite possible for one to be skulking in South London. If you happen to see it, walk away backwards, slowly. Don’t run, and don’t climb a tree. Have fun on your next woodland stroll!
Here’s a video of some silly bugger walking a bloody Leopard around London in the swinging sixties
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