By Hannah Phillips
A 22-year-old woman dubbed ‘big cat mum’ for her animal whispering skills has invited orphaned wild cats into her home – including a one-year-old PUMA.
Animal lover Lauren Thompson, 22, nicknamed Pixie, started taking in the creatures when she saw their mothers rejecting them after birth.
Lauren, who lives with her parents Bruce and Lisa in Cornwall, volunteers at The Cornwall Nature Conservancy sanctuary for endangered animals.
She claims Pumpkin is just like any other pet – playing with border collie Bowie, going for walks on a lead and even snacking on stolen Wotsits
Lauren, from Plymouth, Decon, said: “Pumpkin just acts like a big cat, he likes cuddly toys. He would sit on my lap and have cuddle.
“He was quite protective over me on walks, but he wasn’t aggressive.
“He’s just so cute. As soon as he sees me, he starts purring.
“He would come sniffing over when I was eating and try anything. He didn’t like Wotsits though – he spat them straight back out.
“I don’t think he’d ever hurt me – but what if something scared him?
“I was walking him and one of the volunteers who I didn’t really get on with approached us and Pumpkin could sense how I was feeling.
“He saw him coming. He got in front of me and puffed himself up, I had to calm him down.”
Lauren has plenty of experience taking care of exotic animals due to her role as head keeper at Cornwall Nature Conservancy.
To date, she has fostered five big cats at home including fishing cats, servals and jaguarundi whose mothers rejected them
The 22-year-old adopted Pumpkin when he was just a few hours old after he was deserted by his mum.
Lauren said her parents’ house guests couldn’t believe their eyes when they first met Pumpkin and her mum and dad learned to live with him.
And the animal lover even said despite being strong enough to knock her over, he still loved cuddly toys and she even managed to train him to walk on his back legs for health checks.
But in the last month, eight stone Pumpkin became, at two foot high, too full-grown to be kept at home and is now enjoying life in an enclosure beside his parents at the nature reserve in Launceston, Cornwall.
Lauren said: “Bowie is the biggest wimp in the world.
“Pumpkin just wanted to play with him and Bowie would just look the other way but he got used to him.
“When guests came round to my parents’ house, they didn’t think he was real.
“My uncle came over and he honestly didn’t believe it, he just kept saying ‘that’s not a puma’.
“My parents don’t mind until they start getting really big.
“But I knew Pumpkin wouldn’t be able to stay with me forever, he was getting bigger and turning into more of a puma, I miss him.
“He was never aggressive, he was lovely but he’s stronger now, he needs his own space.
“They can’t be domesticated.
“One day they will be alright and the next they could kill you.
“You’ve got to be able to read them and have understanding of what you’re doing.”
As well as pumas, in the past Lauren has taken in pigs, goats, sheep, racoon dogs, coatimundi, guinea fowl and jackdaw.
And she also has a special knack for cat whispering outside of her parents’ two bed home – looking after Scottish wildcats, ocelot, servals and jaguarundi at the wildlife centre too.
Pumpkin now lives at the conservancy so his adopted mum is still able to see him every day and has fitted a window into his cage so they can cuddle.
Lauren said: “He doesn’t know how strong he is, he could just knock me over.
“It comes to a point that you have got to let them go and find themselves
“When you feed them, you have to leave them alone, you have got to respect them.”
Tony Blackler MBE, 73, has run the conservancy, which homes over 200 animals, including monkeys, wild cats and otters for 36 years with his wife, Cherry.
He said: “Pumpkin treats Lauren like gold dust.
“Pumas are the fourth biggest big cat. We take in rescues and release them if it is possible.
“We have released cats in India. If not, we breed them.”