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I've been intrigued by stories of killer cats loose in Britain's countryside.
Sightings of ABC's (Alien Big Cats) have been around for many years; prints, scat, and evidence of cat kills have also been reported. So, do these cats survive in the British countryside?
More importantly, do they pose a risk to human safety?
What is The Beast of Exmoor?
The Beast of Exmoor is a cryptozoological cat that is reported to roam the fields of Exmoor in Devon and Somerset in the United Kingdom.
There have been numerous reports of eyewitness sightings. However, the official Exmoor National Park website lists the beast under "Traditions, Folklore, and Legends" and the BBC calls it "the famous-yet-elusive beast of Exmoor."
Sightings were first reported in the 1970s, although it became notorious in 1983, when a South Molton farmer claimed to have lost over 100 sheep in the space of three months, all of them apparently killed by violent throat injuries.
The Beast of Exmoor: and Other Mystery Predators of Britain by Di Francis
I bought this book some years ago and I've never managed to find another copy since. Searching on Amazon, it appears that the books are often out of stock, which includes those written by Ms Francis about other killer cats in Britain's countryside.
This book intrigues me. Its subject matter is frightening but fascinating at the same time. Although it appears that most victims of these mystery cats are animals, e.g. sheep and lambs, the risk to human life is still very real.
The author even suggests that Genette Tate could have been a victim of a killer cat. (This since has been disproved.)
However, most of the footage or reports of these cats have been vague or inconclusive so it's hard to believe that these cats would ever pose a risk to human safety.
But, can we be sure of that?
This book details the search for The Beast of Exmoor in 1983 after farmers reported considerable losses of sheep and lambs. Although some sightings were made and the evidence of cat kills were identified, no cat was ever caught.
"As soon as I saw this title for sale I just had to buy it. The whole book is fascinating in its facts and pictures of 'possible sightings'. Anything unusual or weird like this intrigues me and Di Francis has made this book a valued member of my personal library. I have lost count of the number of times I have re-read it. The first time after I had completed it, I immediately wanted to purchase her second book on the same subject, but was unable to find it. When I do eventually obtain a copy I just know that it will be an excellent read!"
Known Reported Sightings of Cats — Past and Present
Other cats have been reported in:
- Beast of Exmoor, Devon and Somerset, 1970s - 1983/4
Sheep kills were made in the area and so, too, were many sightings. Sheep had their skulls crushed and bodies eviscerated. Hair gathered on Exmoor were identified as Puma in 1987.
- A Labrador-size cat, Nr, Watchet, Somerset, 20-21st June, 1991
Approximately 34-inches-long with bands of white, orange, and silver around its body.
- Beast of Bodmin, Cornwall, 1992 - Present
- Felicity the Puma, Inverness-shire, 1980
Trapped in October 1980, Felicity was 6-years-old. The cat appeared tame but had obviously been living in the wild. Puma sightings and sheep kills continued after her capture. She died in 1985 and was stuffed for permanent display in Inverness museum.
- Surrey Puma, Surrey and Hampshire, 1959 - 1970
Sightings of cat-like beasts were seen at a farm in Surrey in 1962-63. Many other reported sightings of puma-like cats were made and hair found in August 1984 were reported to be Puma.
- Fen Tiger, Cambridgeshire, 1950's - 1990's
- Clouded Leopard, Kent, 1975
- Wrangaton Lion, Devon, 1998 - 1999
- Shooters Hill Cheetah
First sighted in July 1963, David Back was driving through Shooters Hill, SE London when he spotted a giant cat running off into Oxleas Wood. Soon after, a large, golden animal jumped over the bonnet of the a police car in the same area. Footprints were found supporting the cheetah theory.
- Suffolk Lynx
Shot near Beccies, Suffolk in 1991 after it had killed 15 sheep over a two week period. A local collector has the body in his hall after the Home office ordered the photos and the body to be destroyed.
Sightings of Big Cats in the UK
29 July 2009 (Wednesday)
Area: Helensburgh, Argyll, Dunbartonshire.
Police dog handler, PC Chris Swallow spotted a 1.2m (4ft) long creature that he now believes was one of the Big Cats which reportedly roam the UK.
It was prowling near a railway line. The size of the track was much larger than a domestic cat and the way it balanced along the railway line discounted it as being a dog.
A large tan-coloured beast has also been seen locally.
The fourth county in the UK league table for unidentified big cat sightings.
A member of staff of Devon-air Radio Station and his father were startled by two black animals that darted out in front of the car. The car hit one of the animals which was thrown to the grass verge.
Both men got out of the car to make sure the animal was okay but were greeted with a ferocious snarl. Both men reported seeing two black shapes, white fangs when they snarled and glowing eyes. The animal was gone when they went back to check the next day.
In November 1998, a young, male lion was seen near to Wrangaton. A paw print has also been found in the area though a search turned up nothing.
In 1988, a group of boys camped overnight on the moor in the Giant's Basin. They found signs in the morning that two big cats had clawed through their outer tent.
In April 2004, a large black cat was spotted on Manaton Green. More recently, a stocky, grey beast was seen below Hound Tor.
Why are these Big Cats seen?
One very good reason why these cats are now at large in our countryside is that they've been released from private ownership, zoos, and/or circuses.
In 1992, economic problems caused difficulties with the upkeep of these animals (feed, vet bills, adequate housing), so many owners found it hard to cope. In 1992, also, London Zoo announced, via the Zoological Society of London, that it faced closure due to increased running costs and the lack of visitors.
The 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act probably contributed to the release of big cats as it stamped down more on private ownership by incorporating a licensing system and possible fines for failure to abide by the rules.
The Mystery of ABC's
The Mull panthers
Sightings of big, black cats on the Isle of Mull have smashed the theory that ABC's are descendants of the big cats released into the wild when the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act came into force.
There are no zoos on The Isle of Mull and no cat could swim the distance from the mainland to The Isle of Mull. So, where did these ABC's come from?
The sightings on The Isle of Mull have included:
In 1978, a couple was driving on holiday in the early morning when they spotted a big cat. It was black, unmistakably feline with the slack piece of skin just found between the ribs, and the hindquarters which allow cats to leap large distances.
On 15 September 2002, another couple saw a large black cat lying on a small hill just 100 yards away from where they sat. They estimated the length of its body which did not include its tail as 4 feet.
In Autumn of the same year, three amateur naturalists saw a dark or black animal walking along the grass verge by the side of the road. They were about 150 yards away and were all in agreement that the animal was a large black cat.
Were two black panthers released on the Isle of Mull at the same time of these sightings? Did they subsequently breed? Or, did someone else have the idea to release ABC's some 25 years later?
Isle of Mull
More Sightings of ABC's
Many websites are dedicated to this phenomenon, so this threat to livestock is still live today.
Hackney Marsh — This is said to be the home of the Hackney Marsh Big Cat, which is thought to be a sabre-toothed tiger. Witnesses have described it as four-feet-tall with very long teeth.
Epping Forest — In the district of Ongar (which is on the edge of Epping Forest), dozens of witnesses have seen a leopard-sized cat. The latest sighting was earlier this year when two schoolboys, Joe Campling (12) and his cousin, Dean Campling (11) saw a giant black panther crouching in the lower branches of a tree. This cat has been seen several times but luckily prefers to stay away from humans.
What risk do these Big Cats pose?
According to UKBigCats.co.uk, 'until conclusive evidence about the different species is collected, these animals can never be offered proper protection from harm, nor can steps be taken to warn the public about them.'
As most of the sightings of these cats have been from a distance it seems pretty clear that collecting sufficient evidence about these cats will be a very difficult process. They are often shy and wary of humans which is a good thing in one way as it limits the possibility of encounters. On the other hand, it could make the cats more skittish and likely to attack if cornered or threatened.
Big Cats In Britain
Proof of Big Cats
- Sheep are dismembered and occasionally found up trees. Kills are typical of a cat kill with bite wounds to throat or neck.
- Paw print cast of a cat was taken in August 1998 at Ketton Quarry, Rutland. Local zoo confirmed that it was from a big cat of puma or panther type.
- There are regular sightings of large, black cats in the countryside.
- At least three people have admitted to deliberately releasing big cats, but that doesn't account for the vast amount of sightings that have occurred throughout the country.
- Most of the sightings have been of black panthers, which are known to be rare.
So why so many sightings?