Big Cats in the South West

The Eurasian Lynx.
The Eurasian Lynx.

The south west of England is particularly active in respect to sightings of big cats. The beasts of Exmoor and Bodmin Moor are well known throughout the country, and beyond, but there are also many other sightings of big cats in the area.

Big Cats in Cornwall

The Beast of Bodmin

The Beast of Bodmin, like The Beast of Exmoor, is a phantom wild cat which is purported to range in Cornwall. Bodmin Moor became a centre of these sightings with occasional reports of mutilated slain livestock.

In general, scientists reject such claims because of the improbably large numbers necessary to maintain a breeding population and because climate and food supply issues would make such purported creatures' survival in reported habitats unlikely.1 It is however known that it is possible for certain species of Felidae to recover after teetering on the very brink of extinction; the African cheetah being an obvious example of this.2 Food would be relatively plentiful in the south west and winters there are mild.

Sightings on Bodmin Moor

Jane Fuller was walking her dogs late at night near Cardinham on Bodmin Moor in October 1993 when she was knocked out when a huge puma-like animal sprang at her. The 38 year-old woman came round to find the terrifying beast stalking her about 30 ft away at as her dogs growled and barked. Under a full moon, she could see the animal's front legs were shorter than its hind legs - and it had a 3-4 ft tail. A creature was finally chased away by the woman's labrador. A footprint and hairs found at the scene were reportedly being studied by animal experts.34

The secretary of the Royal Cornwall Show reported seeing a large cat-like beast on Bodmin Moor. Christopher Riddle says that while picnicking on the moor with his family near the village of Bradford at the end of August 1997, he saw a jet-black cat about five to six feet long running through a meadow. "The animal was seen by three out of the four adults present and no alcohol had been consumed. I know that many people will still not believe that such animals exist on the moor, but I, for one, have the evidence of my own eyes and those of two other people," he said.5

Derek and Christine Day, and their daughter Lisa, were amazed to see a large white creature sitting in open land near their home to the south of Bodmin in March 2000. The animal was about 200 yards away, so Derek grabbed his binoculars for a closer look. "It was definitely a cat," said Derek. "It was very big, bigger than a large dog, but the most striking thing was its colour. It was bright white. It had small ears and a solid bushy tail that was about 18ins long. It sat there for a while, it looked straight at me with its yellowy eyes then skulked off very quickly just like a cat low to the ground towards the railway line." Christine called out to her parents who were visiting from Manchester. They caught a glimpse from the bedroom window. Christine's father Charles Sims, 72, said: "We've seen the pictures of the beast of Bodmin and they are always a darker colour. Although this one was white, it is certainly not the kind of thing we expected to see when we visited." Neighbour Clifford German, 43, was also outside when his attention was drawn to the animal. He saw another big cat six years ago in about the same spot. "That was one of the first ones spotted. It was a dark one," he said. "This one was a white colour. I looked at Derek and he just stood there completely amazed." Derek, 41, went over to where he had seen the cat sitting and the grass was flattened. There was no sign of paw prints but a couple of days later he and Cornish Guardian photographer Tim Neale found remains of chewed bones.6

Investigation

A long held hypothesis suggested the possibility that alien big cats at large in the United Kingdom could have been imported as part of private collections or zoos, later escaped or set free. An escaped big cat could not be reported to the authorities due to the illegality of owning and importing the animals.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) decided to conduct an official investigation in 1995. The study's findings decided there was "no verifiable evidence" of exotic felines loose in Britain, and that the mauled farm animals could have been attacked by common indigenous species. The report stated that "the investigation could not prove that a 'big cat' is not present."7

The Skull

Less than a week after the government report, a boy was walking by the River Fowey when he discovered a large cat skull. Measuring about four inches wide and seven inches long (10 × 18 cm), the skull was minus its lower jaw but possessed two sharp, prominent canines that suggested that it might have been a leopard. The story hit the national press at about the same time of the official denial of alien big cat evidence on Bodmin Moor.

The skull was sent to the Natural History Museum in London for verification. They determined that it was a genuine skull from a young male leopard, but also found that the cat had not died in Britain and that the skull had been imported as part of a leopard-skin rug. The back of the skull was cleanly cut off in a way that is commonly used to mount the head on a rug. There was an egg case inside the skull that had been laid by a tropical cockroach that could not possibly be found in Britain. There were also cut marks on the skull indicating the flesh had been scraped off with a knife, and the skull had begun to decompose only after a recent submersion in water.8


Other Big Cats in Cornwall

The Western Morning News reported in 1966 on sightings of a 'puma' witnessed at Ladock, St Columb Major, St Keverne and St Ives.9

Sightings in West Penwith

Angela Boyd was walking her four German hort-haired pointers on a coast path in West Cornwall one morning in either 1999 or 200010. To her surprise she saw a grey-fawn coloured puma just 10 feet away, sliding through the bracken and brambles of an animal path and going into a small quarried area. She had also heard that the cat had been approaching people fishing on the nearby rocks. She added, "One angler got back to his car one night and found the puma had not only pursued him back there but was standing snarling right next to him."11

Chris Levington, a taxi driver, witnessed a "great big black cat the size of a dog" after dropping a fare off in Nancledra on July 17, 2009. He was returning to Hayle at about 12.30pm when he saw the animal in a ditch at the side of the road near the Engine Inn at Cripplesease. "It gave me quite a shock," he said, "it must have been a puma or lynx. When I came round the corner, the cat was obviously shocked and it arched its back and spat at me." Moments later he saw another car whose driver confirmed that he had seen the animal as well.12

Sightings in the Camborne Area

An Alsation sized black cat seen by motorist Alan Smallbone near Praze-an Beeble in November 1993, was 'explained' by the West Briton newspaper as 'Mister Man', a black Persian cat belonging to local residents Colin and Dawn Sharpe.13

In January 2003 a big cat - thought to be a puma - was spotted by a party of holidaymakers close to the Cornish Gold Centre, at Illogan. It was captured on film by John Hallett, from Manchester, who then sent it to expert Mike Thomas at Newquay Zoo for verification. "The pictures have been examined by a number of experts to ensure that this is not a domestic animal," said Mr Thomas, who released the pictures to the media on July 30 2003. He added, "If we had any doubts at all then we would not have made them public. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a big cat because of the shoulder muscle that is visible, its stance and the curl of the tail, which is typical of big cats." More than a dozen holidaymakers witnessed the big cat make its way across the field at Tolgus and then disappear over a hedge. Mr Thomas, who had been gathering evidence of big cats in the wild for the previous eight years, believed that the grass in the field was about a foot deep when the shots were taken and has estimated that the big cat was about three feet long.14

Reports of a big cat in the Gwithian area began with a caller on a local radio programme who claimed to have seen a black cat-like creature around six feet in length crossing the A30 road near Roseworthy in March 2003. The call was followed by a second from John Carter of Camborne, who later said: "I saw a similar creature three or four weeks ago, but never said anything to anybody for fear of being ridiculed. My wife and I were driving down the road between Connor Downs and Gwithian when I spotted this black cat emerge from the hedge on one side of the road and run into a cemetery on the other side. By the time I had told my wife to look, it had gone, but I know what I saw. I was a photographic imager in the RAF, so my eyesight is pretty good."15

Sightings in the Helston Area

Mike Thomas, who used to run Newquay Zoo, was called to a remote farm between Helston and Gweek late on Sunday afternoon, January 18, 2004 by a farmer, who did not wish to be identified. A sheep was barely alive after being badly mauled. Mr Thomas, who had been investigating big cat sightings for more than a decade, said the sheep bore all the signs of a big cat attack. He said: "It had hardly any wool left and there were masses and masses of claw marks and scratches all over its body. It was eating but it was hardly able to walk." Paw prints resembling those of a big cat were discovered at the scene of the attack. Mr Thomas added: "I have been called out all over the country but having gone to this site I was quite amazed by what I saw. I took police wildlife officer PC David Tarr with me and he had never seen anything like it. We are both in total agreement that this was rather strange. I just wonder whether it could be a female big cat with its cubs, teaching them how to hunt. It's more than one cat." The injured ewe is now recovering after being treated by a vet. PC Tarr said he examined the field for barbed wire and brambles and had ruled out an attack by a badger, fox or dog. He said: "I found two or three paw prints, three inches in diameter, consistent with a lynx-sized cat. I would say I am 80 per cent sure this was an attack by a cat," he said. "We have definitely got big cats loose here in Cornwall. He also found a smaller print, possibly from a young cat which could have been out hunting with its mother.16

A big cat was reportedly seen on July 11, 2007. Peter Roberts made the sighting at around 5pm on a clear, sunny day, along with two other witnesses. "We were parked in the car park off Shrubberies Hill in Porthleven," he said. "We were returning to the car having spent an afternoon at Porthleven beach. I noticed this animal in the field which I brought to my wife and son's attention. It was initially seated. After a while it stood up and padded (it didn't run, it didn't walk, it stalked as my son described it) its way from the field. I did say that maybe it was a fox because the alternative is too weird but I cannot square that with myself at all. This animal was all black with a long finite tail. When it sat down it was half obscured and when it moved across the field the bottoms of the legs were obscured," he said. "The sighting lasted for several minutes with the initial sighting being of something black in a yellow/brown field. I would estimate the distance at about 150 to 200 yards from the car park, across a road, a field and halfway into the second field. At the distance seen it must have been a large animal. I wish I had taken a photo but loading kids and beach kit into the car and with an hour's drive ahead it wasn't foremost in my thoughts."17

Sightings on the Lizard Peninsula

Jan Saunders, 79, of Manaccan on the Lizard in Cornwall, said he was converted to the growing number of people who believe there are wild cats roaming the Westcountry when one jumped out in front of his car as he drove along a remote lane on Goonhilly Downs towards Coverack one morning in March 2003. Mr Saunders said: "My first thought was 'what a beautiful animal'. I wondered where it had come from. Up until now I thought past sightings were exaggerations, but now that I have seen this I am totally sold. It was so unlike anything I have ever seen before." He added that the animal was about 4ft long from paw to paw as it pounced from one hedge to another across the road. He said it was a ginger colour, with dark brown or black spots. He did not notice whether it had a tail. Danny Bamping, of the British Big Cats Society in Plymouth, said the sighting fitted the description of a lynx.18

Sightings in the Falmouth Area

A man was reportedly approached by a panther-like beast, despite listening to Jimi Hendrix at full volume in his car. Trevor Bartle said he sat motionless as the animal, the size of a large Alsatian, peered in through his window. Mr Bartle, 45, estimated the encounter close to his home at Mylor Bridge, near Falmouth in early 2000, lasted around 30 seconds.19

Sightings in the Truro Area

John Cockle of Truro witnessed a big cat several times in the early 1980s. He saw it once on Malpas Road and once in St Clement's Road: "It was crouched down in the road and when it saw me it leapt over the hedge. It was a sandy brown colour with a long tail."20

In December 1984 it was reported that Walter Berry of Penhalvean near Stithians recently spotted a big cat about 50 yards from his home. He said: "I was in the lane when I saw it. It looked like a leopard or a puma, was about four feet long and had a small head. I banged my walking stick on the road and, in one leap, it was over the hedge." Since the sighting he has heard other reports of the cat being seen in the area.21

In January 1985 Sydney Bawden and his wife Violet, of Goonlaze near Stithians twice spotted a big cat near their home. Mrs Bawden first saw the cat jump over a hedge into a field and start stalking. The following week Mr Bawden saw the cat nibbling corn in the same field. He said: "It was like a cat, but much bigger and darkish in colour." A neighbour had reported a similar sighting.22

Barry Champion, head gardener for the National Trust at Trelissick, saw a large cat on the estate in October 2002, although earlier he was casting doubts on his wife Lynda's reported sighting: "My wife was in the apple orchard when she saw a cat, the size of a small Labrador dog, about two to three feet away. It was all black with a big black tail, and although it bounded away, it really frightened her. I tried to tell her it must have been a dog because I couldn't believe it was a cat. Then days later I was driving up the road in the early morning when something caught my eye at New Lodge. I stopped the car, looked over a gate and 200-300 yards away saw this black animal apparently chasing a rabbit, zig-zagging about. It was a big black cat with a long black tail, puma-like, and from the way it was moving there was no question that it was a cat rather than a dog." Barry said he told the lads on his garden staff and they laughed at him, until the weekend of October 26-27, when one of them was shooting at squirrels at Carcaddon in Trelissick Garden. He was sitting at the base of a tree when he saw, 40 yards away from him, the same creature. He searched the area, but could not find any footprints. Not long before, a woman walking her dog near New Lodge had reported seeing a big black cat in a tree.23

Sightings in the Newquay Area

Servicemen on night manoeuvres at RAF St Mawgan air base reported sighting a large black puma-like animal sometime around April 2004. They say they saw the creature in a series of separate sightings, resulting in motion detectors being put around the base in a bid to track the animal and catch it on camera. Witnesses compared the cat's size with a fox that was in the field at the same time, saying it was "five times the length of the fox", with a head like a puma or panther. The animal was observed for various lengths of time from different points around the airfield by personnel using night vision equipment. Squadron Leader Dave Webster said: "We need to maintain the integrity of the sighting area so that zoologists can ascertain whether or not the creature was in transit or if it has become a more frequent visitor. The zoological specialists on site are keen to get on with the job of determining how often this creature has visited RAF St Mawgan." He also warned: "This is an active military installation, which is regularly patrolled and guarded. In the present security climate it would be extremely unwise for anyone to attempt to venture on to the base in an attempt to see if this creature is still here." According to one observer the animal was at least six feet long. Footprints said to be those of a big cat, and measuring 2.5 inches in diameter, were later found at the base.242526

Sightings in the St Austell Area

Leonard Mingo of Burthey Farm near Fraddon found one of his ewe-lambs almost totally devoured in November 1984. He estimates that 70-80lb of meat was eaten, in his opinion, far more than any dog or fox could consume in one sitting.27

Footage, taken in August 1994 by English China Clays employee Roy Taylor was screened as part of a documentary called "Tracking the Beast of Bodmin" shown on Carlton Westcountry television on December 28 1997. The programme featured a fleeting few seconds of video footage of a mystery animal prowling through clay mines near St Austell. Mr Taylor, a councillor on Restormel Borough Council, had kept the evidence of the sighting a secret for five years. The images are blurred and shot from a distance, and last barely a few seconds. Nevertheless, animal experts who have examined the footage believe it is the best evidence yet of wild big cats wandering free around the Westcountry. The video tape shows a mysterious black creature with a long tail climbing from a disused clay pit before crossing a path and disappearing into undergrowth. Experts believe the animal's gait and movement mark it out as a cat. They also estimate it at between four-and-a-half feet and six feet in length, ruling out the possibility of it being a normal domestic cat. Mr Taylor added, "I was walking around the clay mine when my son spotted something moving in the distance. I looked up and saw, about 300 yards away, this black cat moving across the landscape. It was definitely bigger than a domestic cat, so I grabbed my camera from the car and started to film." He managed to track the beast for around 15 seconds before it disappeared into thick undergrowth. However, only a few seconds of the footage still remains after some was accidentally wiped from the tape when he showed it to friends.28

In January 1995, deer farmer Stephen Pattle was convinced that his herd was being preyed upon by a big cat, which had been seen several times in the Galowras area, west of Mevagissey. He discovered the carcasses of seven young deer on his farm near Polmassick that month; only the heads, legs and feet of the deer remained. Mevagissey resident Dave Brewster also reported a puma-like animal on the road from Tregony Hill to Gorran. He said, "the creature's fur appears to be bright red, probably accentuated because of the bright daylight.29

A big cat was reportedly spotted several times at Trevenning Farm, Fowey, once by the farmer John Pappworth and, in early October 1995, by David Byrne and his wife from Lanteglos, who witnessed the cat near Mr Pappworth's farm. Mr Byrne said he saw an animal running down the road about 20 foot in front of him. "It was quite a large black-grey animal', he said. Mr Byrne said he had been highly sceptical about reports of pumas roaming the Cornish countryside, but not now: "I know what I saw and now I'm a believer,' added Mr Byrne.30

A large tan-coloured puma-like cat was photographed several times in the St Austell area31 in 1997. The anonymous photographer said: "My wife and I first saw the cats locally on Christmas Day last year. We saw them again two weeks later and several times afterwards, until they disappeared with the arrival of holiday makers around Easter this year. The animals appeared for an hour or two after daybreak on cold sunny mornings, as if for a spot of sunbathing. I mentioned these animals to other people and, comparing sightings, it does seem that these two have been spotted four or five miles away. These animals are very shy. Nobody here would like to disturb them. We do not want to attract gun or camera shooters." The creature's paw prints and droppings were also discovered at the same time on a local beach. The tracks came from a rocky outcrop which can only be reached from an extremely steep cliff. The previous October, a big cat was spotted drinking in a disused quarry in the St Austell area.3233

In January 1998 china clay workers reported seeing a black cat when they were backfilling a disused pit in the Stenalees area, near St Austell. One of the men stated, "We saw a couple of cats walking across the bottom of the pit. One of the cats was black and the other a grey colour. Both were at least six feet from nose to tail."34

Parish clerk Mary Symons was driving from her home at Ruan Highlanes to the monthly meeting of Veryan Parish Council meeting on the evening of January 19 2009 when she was startled by an animal crossing the road in front of her. She said: "It jumped off the Cornish hedge and down the bank, and then pounced onto the road and up the other side, from left to right, just as I was coming up the hill after passing Melinsey Mill. It was like a cat, but though it was much bigger than a domestic animal, it wasn't very big. It was very slender and sleek and its tail was like a cat's tail and it moved like a cat. "I could see the colour, which was gingerish to brown, because I caught it in the headlights. It definitely wasn't a fox and though we sometimes see deer cross the roads, it was definitely not a deer. I can only think that it was a big cat that is probably living wild." Members of the parish council said there had been recent reports of several lambs being killed in the area. Mary, who is married to a farmer, has lived on the Roseland for 30 years. She added: "It was a very strange experience and I have never seen anything like it before, or heard anything about big cats on the Roseland. But I know what I saw. It was the very distinctive tail and shape of the animal that makes me think it must have been a big cat."35

Sightings in South East Cornwall

John Rose of Bere Alston is reported to have sighted big cats at Tregantle firing range in the 1920s while on guard duty.36

On September 2, 1994 at about 11am three separate groups of golfers watched a large black cat, about 5ft long, with a thick tail, walking across the golf course at the China Fleet Club at St Mellion near Saltash. Several of the witnesses were police officers. More sightings were made over the following months. Chris Moiser discovered that sightings of the cat were approximately 28-35 days apart. The club attracts golfers from some considerable miles away and many of the witnesses were not aware of the previous reports. Chris Moiser also received reports of big cats sighted in the area to the north of Saltash, from Pillaton and Kit Hill.37

Peter Lee had laid duckboards on muddy ground while working on a roof in Botus Fleming and was stunned to find huge paw prints three and a half inches across. The sighting was near the China Fleet Club near Saltash, where several big cat reports had been made over the previous years (see above).38 This is presumably the same story as the report of a paw print left deep in the mud and measuring 3.5 inches which was discovered in February 2001 on the outskirts of Botus Fleming. The sighting was near the China Fleet golf course at Saltash, where there there were several reported sightings of big cat-like creatures in the previous years. A woman was woken at 3am by the scraping and banging sounds coming from her garden. When she and her husband investigated the next morning they found that part of their fence had been knocked down, a 20-gallon drum of liquid manure knocked over and a fence panel scratched and bitten. The animal had escaped after apparently finding itself trapped, but had left behind splashes of blood, four black hairs and a deep paw print in a flower-pot.39

A large cat was reportedly hit by a motorist late at night near Pelynt in February 2006. He thought the animal was going right through the windscreen. He then pulled over into a lay-by in nearby Lanreath to check for damage. He reportedly found debris from the car lying in the road but could find no remains of the animal. Considerable damage was apparently done to the car. Another large cat was reportedly seen walking through a field at nearby Duloe and uttered 'an unforgettable throaty growl' before disappearing.40

Sightings in North Cornwall

A family of holidaymakers got a fright when they spotted an exotic big cat while camping near Bude. Linda Davis-Beades, 39, photographed the beast after hearing "an almighty noise" and seeing sheep fleeing in a neighbouring field. She and husband Stewart, 32, were at a holiday park in Bude with kids Crystal, 9, and Cole, 2. Stewart, of Solihull, West Midlands, said: "It was worrying there was something out there and we were only under canvas." The British Big Cats Society reckons the beast was probably a lynx-like caracal.41


Big Cats in Devon

For The Beast of Exmoor see under Big Cats in Somerset.

Sightings on Dartmoor

Paul Rattenbury, 15, of Sourton Cross, said he saw a mystery animal on the Okehampton-Plymouth Railway line cutting there about 7.30 pm on Sunday, June 22, 1969. It looked jet black with large pointed ears and was too big to be a cat. It ran up the bank and disappeared. He had been told that the animal had also been seen at Meldon Quarry.42

In the summer of 1977 a driver witnessed a sandy-coloured, puma-like animal run across the road as he was travelling between Bovey Tracey and Haytor Vale. He was sure that the animal looked and moved like a cat. There were several more sightings in the Moretonhampstead area in the following two years.43

Over four consecutive nights from August 21 to August 24, 1992 farmer Christopher Murray of Pennywell Farm near Buckfastleigh had four healthy ewes attacked, all had their rumps totally ripped off. That same weekend, on August 22, 1992, a Labrador had to have an emergency operation when its throat was slashed at Liverton near Bovey Tracey. Its owner found traces of hair, claw marks and footprints in the area.44

A young male lion was apparently spotted on the loose near the village of Wrangaton on November 19, 1998. Armed police and tracker dogs spent most of the day searching fields, hedges and woods after a motorist said that the bloody-maned beast jumped through a hedge near the village. Big cats specialist Robin Godbeer, from Dartmoor Wildlife Park at Sparkwell near Ivybridge, took a cast of a pawprint left at the scene of the sighting. He confirmed on that it was thought to belong to a "big cat". Although he could not identify the species, he said it was big enough to be from a juvenile male lion, which would weigh between 15 and 18 stone. The sighting which sparked off the lion alert was made by Paul Gourley, 42, who saw the animal run into fields as he drove along a country road near Wrangaton after dropping his children off at school.45 A further sighting was made at nearby Stidston on the same day.46

Shortly after the Wrangaton sighting schoolboys camping on Dartmoor said that they were attacked by a pair of big cats 10 miles from the area where a lion was reported seen. The animals clawed through a tent in which two 17-year-olds were sleeping at Giant's Basin on the high moor. Two other boys sleeping in tents nearby were also disturbed. The following morning, the boys, boarders at Bloxham School, Banbury, Oxon, found what they took to be the remains of a sheep nearby. "We had gone to bed early only to be awakened by a ripping and pulling noise at the porch of the tent," said Tom Hayman-Joyce. "The bottom of the tent was badly torn with what appeared to be clawmarks, the guy ropes were broken and one peg was pulled out of the ground. We reported the incident and everyone believed us, especially when they saw the state of the tent." David Dennehy said he shone a torch out of his tent when he heard the other boys shouting. He said he saw two pairs of green cat's eyes. He took two mess tins and started banging them together as he ran towards the animals - but they did not move. "They seemed to be greyish brown, perhaps the size of a Great Dane, with pointy ears and shiny eyes," said David. "Someone reckoned it was a lynx, it did not seem as big as a lion." John Pollard, another pupil, said he felt "sick with fear" and hardly slept.47

Motorist Geoff Drew spotted a big cat on the A30 near Okehampton in October 1999.48

A Northlew man had the 'amazing experience' of seeing a panther-like creature in fields near Okehampton on August 9, 2000. Chris Ware, an animal feed rep who refers to himself as a 'true countryman', said he had never seen anything like it in his life.
‘I have lived in the country all my life and I could recognise the difference between a hare and a fox from half a mile away. I am in no doubt this was a big cat,’ he said.
Mr Ware and local farmer David Heard were sitting in a Land Rover after looking at cattle in fields between Follygate and Okehampton when they spotted the animal near a hedge about 500 yards away. 'It was jet black, the size of a labrador and very feline looking,' he said. 'It was in a classic cat position, a little way off the hedge, sitting and watching for mice and rabbits,' he said. As a heavy shower came in the animal got up and trotted off into the valley. This is believed to be the first recorded siting of a big cat in the vicinity of Okehampton but Mr Ware said he had heard one had been causing problems for farmers in Lydford by killing lambs.49

Sightings in the Plymouth Area

John Rose and his wife Florrie are reported to have seen big cats in their garden at Bere Alston in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Speaking in 1984 Mr Rose said that two big cats came to the couple's garden on several occasions about 15 years ago and they watched them from the bungalow window. He said, "They are as tall as three feet when they are sitting, jet black and very sleek."50

Mr A W Warden spotted a strange black animal near his home at Elfordleigh near Plympton on April 19, 1970. He said that it was a large black creature, about twice the size of a Labrador, with a small head and thick legs. It was in a large field at Plympton and ran off at great speed towards Cann Woods.51

Shortly before Christmas 1998, Mrs Lapthorne, 35, saw a big cat cross the road in front of her near Langage, Plympton. "It had a tail about 3ft long. It was quite sleek. I jumped from the hedge into the road and across." In early 1999, a farm manager told her he had also seen a similar puma-like animal. In early October 1999 her uncle reported seeing a similar beast, this time in woods between Ermington and Ivybridge. A sighting in May 1999, on the outskirts of Ivybridge, led to parents being warned not to let their children walk home from school alone and police increasing patrols. There have been at least five publicised sightings of a big cat in the same region of South Devon in 1999 alone, with more incidents reported in Cornwall.52

The sighting of a mysterious large "puma-like" black cat at Cornwood by a local woman took place on October 25, 1999. The woman was alarmed to see the creature chasing pheasants in a field on the Blachford estate, and called the police. She spotted the creature from the garden of her house at 6pm and went inside to her bedroom upstairs to get a better look. She is convinced she saw a big cat similar to other sightings reported on Dartmoor and on the northern edge of Plymouth.53

Sightings in the South Hams

Hilda and Raymond Harvey of Loddiswell found paw prints, 4 inches across, in their garden on June 26, 1983. Mrs Harvey said "there were three pad marks that made up the print so we decided they couldn't be a dog." This followed sighting of a lion-sized beast in the Kingsbridge area over the previous few weeks.5455

Maureen Grogan and Brian May of Bristol were walking their dog between North Hallsands and Beesands on July 27, 1989 when they spotted a black 'panther-like' creature sunning itself on the coastal path. The three foot tall creature was sitting in the middle of the path and was desribed as being the size of a small Alsatian, but meatier, and looked sleek and well fed.56

Farmer Will Moore of Mill Farm, South Milton witnessed a large reddish-brown animal resembling an enormous fox in one of his fields in August 1989. He said that the animal was as long as a full-grown pig, had a long tail and had a face more pointed than a pigs. The sighting came a few days after Charles Lake spotted a big cat at South Milton.57

Sightings in the Torbay Area

A ''Puma'' alert was flashed around the Paignton and Marldon area after a large black cat was seen in the middle of Preston Down Road in January 1999. Fisheries officer Ian Todd from Marldon was walking his dog when he had the bizarre eyeball encounter with the mystery beast. ''I've never seen anything like it before in my life,'' said a dumbfounded Mr Todd, who lives in Belfield Way. The pair, just 20 yards apart, stared at each other for two minutes before the cat went on his way into a field near the Cockington lane turn-off opposite Occombe House. Mr Todd, who works for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in Brixham, said: ''When I first saw it I thought that it was a big cat. Then I realised it was too big for a cat. It was about the size of a puma.'' He immediately contacted police. He added: ''Normally my dog would have had a go but she was quite timid.'' He revealed how a relative had seen something similar a year before, but had not told anyone for fear of being labelled a crank.58

Sightings in the Exeter Area

In January 1981 schoolboys Ben Huggins and Peter Tremere were playing in the woods near Tedburn St Mary when their two Jack Russells suddenly ran off, returning a few moments later yelping in terror. Chasing them was a huge black cat which stopped when it saw the boys and bounded up a wooded bank out of sight. Shortly after large tracks were found in the woods which experts said were probably those of a puma.59

Sightings in the Tiverton Area

A van driver spotted what he believed could have been a puma on February 7, 2000. Bruce Woodward said he passed what appeared to be a large black cat near Tiverton. Mr Woodward, 35 was on the road between Wiveliscombe and Westleigh at around 1.30pm. "I had just left Greenham Post Office and I saw two eyes down the road staring right at me," he said. "It was jet black, at least two feet high, and had a long tail. I've been driving on theese roads for two years and often see badgers and foxes but have never seen anything like this before." The incident follows two more recent sightings at Ash Thomas near Cullompton. Local farmer Colin Greenslades saw a large black creature dash out in front of his car three weeks ago. The parents of another local farmer also spotted a large black cat-like animal this week. Cullompton farmwatch co-ordinator Dave Silverton said: " They saw it from their house crossing the field and both remarked on the length of its tail. They too saw it during the day."60

Sightings in the Chulmleigh Area

A tawny-coloured big cat was spotted in early 1981 by Lesley Bryant of Rudge Farm at Lapford. She was driving down the lane to her home at 10.00pm when she saw a large animal standing on its hind legs with front paws resting on a concrete stand. She stated that it was the same colour as a fawn Great Dane, possibly slightly darker, and was longer than a Great Dane. It had a blunt-ended tail and cat ears, but not pointed. It jumped a five-bar gate with no trouble at all.61

Sightings in the Great Torrington Area

In November 1997 a couple saw a large brown animal answering the call of nature in countryside near Torrington. A sample of droppings was sent to genetics experts at Leicester University. But a university spokesman said of the analysis process: "We are not sure how long it will take."62

Sightings in the Barnstaple Area

A mysterious big cat, believed to be a puma, was spotted at two different locations in North Devon. The cat, described as up to six foot in length with a long tail, was seen in Combe Martin on January 8, 1999 and in Braunton on January 10.
The feline creature was spotted sitting on Chapel Hill by the Golombeck family, of Hazel Avenue, Braunton, at about 8.45am. "We all went to the window we saw it sitting upright on its front legs," said Sally Golombeck. She described the cat as being a darkish brown colour and said it turned and ran back across the top of the hill before it completely disappeared. "It wasn't a dog, it was a puma," she said. This is not the first time such a creature has been seen in Braunton. Mrs Golombeck said her neighbour thought she had seen one a year ago, but nobody had thought anything of it at the time. "We have a goat in the summer and apparently last year our neighbour said it was going absolutely bananas at the same time as she saw more or less the same creature we saw," she said. Her 11-year-old daughter Hannah was the first one to spot the puma. Nature expert Trevor Beer of Barnstaple said the Braunton sighting fits in with the earlier sighting of a puma-like animal on the Pack o' Cards side of Combe Martin. A holidaymaker had spotted the animal while walking along the lane behind the church on Friday afternoon. She said its head was higher than a garden fence and it had a black smudge on either side of its face. "I would think it was a big cat, probably a puma, on the move because of some disturbance and it was probably the same animal at both locations," said Mr Beer. He suggested it could have been disturbed by people walking, hunting, or even the annual ploughing of the fields.63

Barbara Fryer encountered and photographed a black puma or leopard-like animals near the estuary at Barnstaple in January 2000. The sighting coincided with sightings of a large, black cat at Ash Thomas near Cullompton. Mrs Fryer, who had just bought her camera, said she felt very lucky to have had it with her. 'I'm trying to get into freelance photography, and decided to walk by the estuary at Barnstaple with my friend to try it out,' she said. The two friends headed for an area they often visit, walking along the tow pathbehind Heanton Court. 'I was playing with all the settings and snapping at this and that when there it was in front of us' she said. The cat, which was about as long as a labrador or an alsation, with ''catlike' ears, had left droppings on the path, and was so low slung that it looked pregnant. 'It was probably about 50 feet away and I didn't have my camera set correctly but was glad to get a shot', Mrs Fryer said. The cat stared at them before making off into the undergrowth. Philipa May, also a farmers wife who was with Barbara at the time, said: 'I must admit that I was quite nervous, and that Barbara might have got a closer picture, but it didn't seem wise to get too near. It was so terribly black, I've never seen anything like it. I thought at first it could be a big dog but it just didn't move like a dog.'64

Sightings in the Honiton Area

The Beast of Salcombe Regis, focus of the East Devon 'Cat Flap' in Spring 1993 returned to the village in March, 1994. Neighbours Jane Stevens and Arthur Longbottom spotted the puma-like black cat in the steeply sloping field behind their homes. Jane took a photograph of the animal but it was too far away for identification. The cat bounded up the field into woodland, taking only six leaps to cover a distance of over seventy feet.65

Tim Holmes was "gobsmacked" by an encounter with the beast of Salcombe Regis. He was driving near Tipton St John on January 30, 1995 when he caught a glimpse of the animal. He got out of the car, leaned over the hedge and saw a black cat, "like a Jaguar" and at least two feet high in the field. Large prints were found.66


Big Cats in Dorset

A big cat was sighted in Canford Magna on 8 June, 2006. Further details are missing.67

On October 17, 2006 a small, black leopard was spotted in the back garden of a house on Bushmead Drive in Ringwood. The eyewitness reported that they believed that the big cat was hiding behind the garden shed, but was too scared to investigate further.68

A big cat was spotted in Poole on 14 November, 2006 on heathland close to Tower Park. No desription of the cat was given.69

A black, possibly lynx-like, cat was witnessed by police officers in Corfe Mullen in Dorset on 17 November, 2006. The cat was sighted in Brog Street but subsequently ran off into nearby fields.70

On 28 March, 2007 a big cat was sighted in the twilight at Rodwell Trail in Weymouth.71

On 31 March, 2007 a large cat, described as being as big as a labrador, was spotted near Julian's Bridge in Wimborne. The informant was walking their dogs when the cat ran from the undergrowth and disappeared across the fields.72

A 3 ft (1m) tall cat with green eyes was witnessed in a back garden at Arrowsmith Road in Wimborne on 4 September, 2007. The cat was described as being possibly dark, though the informant, shining a torch at the creature, could only really see the eyes.73

A big cat was spotted at Bournemouth International Airport on 1 November, 2007. No further details were given.74

In the early hours of 10 July, 2008 a big cat was witnessed in Wimborne. The witness gave no description of the cat.75

A suspected big cat was seen near the High Street in Christchurch on 23 January, 2009. The witness gave no description of the animal.76

On 9 June, 2009 a big cat was sighted at Upton Heath. No further details are given.77

A few days later, on 12 June, 2009, a big cat was spotted in Holt Road, Three Legged Cross near Wimborne. The police directed the informant to the Big Cats Society website in order to register the sighting.78


Big Cats in Somerset

The Beast of Exmoor

There have been numerous reports of eyewitness sightings of the Beast of Exmoor, however the official Exmoor National Park website lists the beast under "Traditions, Folklore, and Legends",79 and the BBC calls it "the famous-yet-elusive beast of Exmoor. Allegedly."80 Sightings were first reported in the 1960s, 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. Descriptions of its coloration range from black to tan or dark grey. It is possibly a cougar or black leopard which was released sometime in the 1960s or 1970s after a law was passed making it illegal for them to be kept in captivity outside zoos.8182 However, considering that cougar and leopard life spans are 12–15 years,8384 this is unlikely. In 2006 the British Big Cats Society reported that a skull found by a Devon farmer was that of a Puma, however the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) states that "Based on the evidence, Defra does not believe that there are big cats living in the wild in England."85

Characteristics

Eyewitness testimony has produced a number of different descriptions. Most accounts report the animal as being a large cat either resembling a puma or a panther. It is recorded as being somewhere between four and eight feet from nose to tail, standing very low to the ground, and as having the ability to leap over 6-foot-tall fences with ease. Descriptions of its coloration range from black to tan or dark grey.

No such cat is native to England, and the variations in description have led some cryptozoologists to believe that there might be more than one creature.

Sightings

In the summer of 1971 Mr and Mrs Cross of Ilfracombe were driving along the B3226 when they saw a large, cat-like animal emerge from the Wistlandpound Reservoir Track onto the road. The creature, which was about 50 yeards away, started to walk towards them but was frightened off when another car appeared. The driver of this second car also sighted the cat. All witnesses agreed that the cat was very large, quite black and shaped like a female lion.86

In the summer of 1974 a creature was spotted by a South Molton businessman at Hacche Moor. He, his wife, and two friends saw it clearly: "no doubt about what it was, a very large, black cat and I said at the time it had probably escaped from a zoo or circus". That same year a fawn-coloured cat was spotted several times by Mrs Cooper of Merton in the South Molton area.87

Mr W P Cornish spotted a 'black panther' as he was driving near Blackmoor Gate in 1978. He was able to get to within 20 feet of the animal before it ran away. Charles Pitt also saw the animal near South Molton. He had stopped his car to avoid hitting a stag which had leapt over a hedge into the road and then over the opposite hedge when: "a huge black cat landed on the road right in the same spot. It turned towards the car, and gave a frightening scream, and then leapt the hedge after the stag."88

A farmer reported seeing something fitting the 'big, black and cat-like' description in the area of Brentbridge Woods, east of Filleigh on the weekend of April 30 - May 1, 1983.89

A farmer at Molland saw a creature in May 1983.90 Two schoolboys, Wayne Adams, 13, and Marcus White, 12, also saw a creature in May 1983 whilst staying on a farm in the heart of Exmoor. Wayne said: "I looked over a gate and saw the animal about 10 yards away. It stared straight at me with bulging greeny eyes, just like a lion. It was jet black, apart from white markings down its chest, and it had a head like an Alsatian dog, but it was much too big to be a dog. It was over four feet high and about 15 inches wide across the back. It moved like a cat but I don't think it was a puma. We later found footprints and claw marks.91

Also in May 1983, Jenny Haze of Sheepwash Farm near South Molton spotted a large, black and cat-like creature with a short neck and a long tail whilst on horseback. A local gamekeeper also momentarily spotted the creature by the side of a road.92

Alison Healey, 13, of South Molton spotted a creature on June 19, 1983 whilst walking near Bishop's Nympton. About 80 yards away she saw a big, black, panther-like animal.93

In the summer of 1984 naturalist Trevor Beer saw the head and shoulders of a large animal appear from the undergrowth: "In the green, sun-dappled shadows of the wood it looked black and rather otter-like, a first impression I shall always remember, for the head was broad and sleek with small ears. The animal's eyes were a clear greeny-yellow as I just stood still and stared at it. As it stared back at me I could clearly make out the thickish neck, the powerful-looking forelegs and deep chest and then without a sound it turned and moved swiftly through the trees. That it was jet black I was sure, and long in the body and tail. I guessed at four-and-a-half feet in body length and about two feet at the shoulders. Reaching the wood edge I could see the animal already two-thirds of the way across the adjoining field and moving at great speed. It ran like a greyhound, its forelegs pushing through its hind legs and they seemed to go forward in front of its round head as it raced away, then forcing back as the forelegs again came forward to hit the ground together, a beautiful, very large black panther was my immediate thought."94

In October 1984 three men, Mark Hulland, Dave Bird and Stewart Seatherton, saw a creature as they were driving just outside Brayford. They are certain it was a black panther: "this was not a dog, we are certain of that. It was stocky with strong hind legs, a straight tail and roundish face. It was a lot bigger than an Alsatian. It was like watching a big cat on a Survival programme." He also said that the creature looked well-fed and fit. He added: "It ran off like a flash when we started to make a noise. It didn't turn back to look at us, it just shot off faster then any dog."95

In July 1998 Nigel Brierly wrote to the Western Morning News: "It may be of interest that a large cat was run over on a road near South Molton in 1966. I had the opportunity of examining the carcass despite its head having been severely crushed.
The length including tail was three foot, (body 2ft, tail 1ft) the body colour was grey/brown, the legs had faint dark stripes, the tail was black at the point and ringed with black towards the base. It was female and weighed approximately 10lb's (i.e over twice the weight of the average domestic female) and it was not in kitten., the only remarkable thing visible about the head was the large number of very long and stiff ear bristles. I took the carcase home, where it was examined by the curator and keeper of cats at a well-known wildlife park. They were of he opinion that it was an African Wild Cat. This opinion is backed by the fact that, in the 1970s, African Wild Cats had been kept near here in the Exmoor foothills, and when the owner left in a hurry, it is rumoured, they were released. Occasionally, however, large cats of this size and bigger have been caught in rabbit snares in this area, from the 1920s onwards, and the colours have been black or mottled black and brown with marked protruding fangs."96

Photographic Evidence

Photographs have been produced on at least three occasions, one of which appeared in the West Somerset Free Press in 1989, taken by the Lewis Family of Blue Anchor, and all appear to show a big cat with the features of both a puma and a panther. Skeptics point out that such photographs invariably show the animal without any objects in frame that might give an indication of its size, leading to the suspicion that the photographs are of domestic cats. 'Photo 2' is not very clear, and could well be a black dog, many say. With so many digital photography programs available, there is a possibility of deception.

Explanations

Misidentification

Most observers and scientists believe that the sightings are merely of escaped domestic cats whose size has been greatly exaggerated, or else of large dogs that have been misidentified. The livestock deaths have often been attributed to these large dogs, although human attacks on the sheep have also been suspected.

Escaped Pets

Although large cats are not native to England, some people have kept exotic animals, and in the mid 1970s this became something of a fad. It is inevitable that some have escaped over the years, and conceivable that they created a small group of big cats living hidden in the Exmoor area's countryside. In particular, the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act, which controlled the keeping of big cats (among other things) led to the mass release of many privately owned wild cats.

Hybrids

Some descriptions of the Beast attribute it the features of both a puma and a leopard. Although these animals have been hybridized by Carl Hagenbeck in captivity, the offspring were always found to be dwarfed and short-lived; one such hybrid is preserved in the Zoological Museum at Tring. The name for such a hybrid is a Pumapard. Because male big cat hybrids are always sterile, a self-perpetuating race of puma-leopard hybrids is not possible. The apparent mix of features is probably due to inexpert witnesses rather than hybrid origin.

Government Involvement

Soon after 1983, in response to increased reports of livestock death and sightings of the Beast, the Ministry of Agriculture ordered the Royal Marines to send snipers into the Exmoor hills—although some Marines claimed to have seen the Beast fleetingly, no shots were fired, partially because of the risk of the Marines' high-powered sniper rifle bullets passing straight through the creature's body and then causing injury to humans or livestock etc., and the number of attacks on livestock dwindled. As an amusing side note, the Marines' commanding officer was quoted as saying that their quarry behaved with high, almost human, intelligence and "always moved with surrounding cover amongst hedges and woods" Ultimately, the Marines were recalled from the field, after which the attacks on the local sheep allegedly increased. By 1987, the creature was connected to over 200 farm animal deaths. More recent attacks were reported in 1995 and 2001. The Ministry continued to study the reported sightings into the mid-1990s, before concluding that the Beast was either a hoax or myth and that the alleged sightings had been mistaken identifications of creatures native to the Exmoor area.


Other Big Cats in Somerset

Sightings in the Chard Area

In 2002, in the Chard area, farmers claimed a "Blackdown Beast" had savaged several animals such as sheep and chickens. No reported sightings have been made in the past 18 months.97

Yeovil woman Wendy Pollard reported that she had seen a large panther or puma-like cat sitting at the bottom of her garden in early April 2007. She said: "We told a few friends and work colleagues about it, but both my husband and I have had our legs pulled to this day about the panther being in our garden. We were not taken seriously by 99 per cent of people we know, but we know what we saw so I was really glad to see the story in the paper last week." Wendy explained: "It was just after 7pm when my husband said to me to go and get the camera and pointed - standing on the tall stump of a tree at the bottom of the garden was a very large, black cat. It resembled a puma/panther with an arched back and tail hanging down. We have never seen it again but I am always aware when I am gardening that it once stood up on that tree. It would probably me more frightened of me than me of it, but I'm not taking any chances. It was all a bit surreal. I ran to get the camera but, of course, it must have heard me and jumped down from the tree and disappeared. My husband went to see if it was still around, but it had gone - I don't quite know what he would have done had he found it!" And Wendy added: "We have never seen it again but I am always aware when I am gardening that it once stood up on that tree. It would probably me more frightened of me than me of it, but I'm not taking any chances!".98

Simon Lancaster, of Fairfield, contacted the Chard & Ilminster News after reading in the previous week's edition about the believed sightings of a large cat-like animal by Chard woman Helen Bishop and Seavington St Michael pub landlady Ruth Turner. They told the News about their experiences after reading in the News on October 31, 2007 about Dave Pitman coming across a severely-mauled deer in woods close to his home in Hinton St George. Simon came forward and said that he had been walking his dogs on Herne Hill in Ilminster around 7am on October 31 when he too came across a freshly-killed deer. "The deer had been mauled and eaten right to the bone," he said. "All that remained was its head, front legs and skeletal remains. I was amazed and astonished at the severity of the kill. The animal which had killed this deer must have been some serious meat-eater and no ordinary wild animal." Simon went on that when he returned home he told his wife about the shock finding and then later that night he had read about Dave Pitman finding a deer in a similar condition. "The way Dave had explained the deer he had found was exactly how I found this deer," he said. "After reading the article by Helen Bishop who actually sighted a large black cat near Crewkerne I thought I ought to add my experience to the ever increasing list of big cat evidence."99

Doris and Philip Jennings of Pine Avenue, Glynswood, Chard, say they saw a big cat at around 10pm on November 14, 2007. Mrs Jennings was saying goodbye to her two daughters who had parked in the driveway of her home and "the next thing I know this thing charged past me," she said. "It was so big and black and fast. Three leaps and it had gone. God knows what it was but it certainly wasn't a cat or dog. It frightened me and I can still see it now in my head." Christine Sunter of Donyatt Hill says at around 9am last Friday she was looking out onto fields by her home when she thought she saw a cow grazing "but when it turned I saw its long tail and there was no mistaking what it was - a big black cat," she said. "I got a really good view of it - there is no doubt in my mind." Michael Thurgood of Broadway also told of a creature earlier that month. "I had just driven over the Pound crossroads in Broadway travelling north along Pound Road when I clearly saw a black panther cross the road about 200 yards ahead by the cricket field," he said. At that distance, had it been a domestic cat, it would have been almost too small to see but this was larger than a labrador or German Shepherd and was clearly a cat from its shape and long tail."100

Sightings in the Yeovil Area

On August 6, 2004 police received the report of a recent sighting of very large black cat, the ‘size of a collie dog’, north east of Sherborne Road at Wyndham Hill in Yeovil.101

Police received the report of the sighting of a large black feral cat at Etsome Hill near Somerton on March 9, 2006.102

Anne Mendelson of Henstridge, 61, caught on camera what she believes could be a black panther. The animal was seen roaming in fields behind her home on October 15, 2007. She said: "There's often deer in the field so I was looking out of the window just to have a look and I was rather surprised to see the animal's head in the grass. It was laying down but then it stood up, and I thought that it looked like an unusually big cat. The cat was there for a while and then it moved off towards the bottom of the field and onto the next field behind Dyer's Garage. It looked identical in size to a two year old leopard I have seen on safari in Kenya. I wasn't scared because large cats tend to stay away from humans." She contacted Newton-Clark and Watson veterinary surgery after the sighting, and an employee told her there had been another possible recent sighting of a panther in Corton Denham. Ms Mendelson's sighting followed a spate of sightings in the recent past in areas including Sturminster Newton, Nether Compton and Hardington Mandeville, near Yeovil.103

Sightings in the Taunton Area

In May 2004 the activation of security lights and rustling in nearby bushes in Taunton alerted one witness to the biggest cat he had ever seen. The cat ran off when disturbed.104

A witness reported to the police on July 12, 2005 the sighting of a very large beige and black cat with short fur and a "dippy tail", near Bradford on Tone the previous evening.105

A Taunton woman reported seeing a big black animal on the outskirts of the town on April 5, 2007. Irena Sccavarraccinni, who lives in Bathpool, was returning home from work that morning, just after 8am, when the wild animal leaped over a hedge before her eyes. She rang the Somerset County Gazette and told of her shocking experience driving along Maidenbrook Lane near Cheddon Fitzpaine. "It came out of the hedge and was bigger than a Rottweiler," she said. "I stopped the car and thought shit, what shall I do? After I stopped I thought I have got to go back and look over my shoulder. I wish I'd had my camera." Mrs Sccavarraccinni said that there was a doe in the field at the time, which made her suspect the animal, was going about 'its business'. She added: "I was so shocked I had to tell someone. "I could not have possibly been mistaken. I wear glasses but I know what I saw - I could not believe it."106

A teenager from Cheddon Fitzpaine claimed he came face to face with a panther-like wild cat as he drove home in the early hours of Monday August 13, 2007. Liam Holley, 17, said the animal was in the middle of the road when he came round the corner. "It looked at me, then just ran off into the hedge and disappeared," said Liam. "I was quite shocked because it was close to where I live and you don't expect to see anything like that. But, I'm not that worried because I've only heard of one other person seeing it a couple of months ago and the way it looked at me and ran off suggests it's quite timid of people."107

A dog walker claimed to have found evidence of a mythical "big cat", after discovering a half-eaten sheep with its head ripped off in January 2008.108 Angela Boyd, 62, said that the animal had been attacked from behind and its throat savaged by a creature with huge fangs. She claimed that her pointer dog Rowan sniffed out the carcass while walking between Blagdon Hill and West Buckland on the Blackdown Hills in Somerset. Angela says the sheep had large claws marks on the side like scratches from a cat's claws and its front left leg had been stripped to the bone. Angela, of Wellington, Somerset, said: "It was fresh when we found it but there was no blood. If it had died of natural causes, it would have had grey flesh. Dogs will jump up and tear the skin and make multiple bites. This was neatly incised - the whole thing just says, cat."109

Sightings in the Bridgewater Area

A huge black cat was seen in Love Lane, Burnham-on-Sea, in early February, 1994. Witness Phil Gamblin said, "it was black with a long tail but I wouldn't say it was as big as a panther."110

In 1995 Wayne Broad shot three minutes of film of the black puma-like animal near his house in Pawlett. The video shows the creature, estimated at 6 foot long and 3 foot high, sitting, walking and prowling through a freshly mown field. He later filmed a domestic cat in the same place and from the distance, 200 yards. The domestic cat barely showed above the stubble.111112

A woman spotted a "panther-like" creature in a field at Puriton at about 9am on Sunday morning, March 16 2003. She described the animal, which was black, as the size of a Labrador. Officers investigating the sighting were said to be waiting to examine a photograph of the creature taken by the woman.113

On March 2, 2004 police received the report of a previous sighting of a large cat, seen approximately 2 miles before junction 23, by a witness heading south on the M5. The animal was said to be ‘bigger than a cat but smaller than a lion’.114

Stephen Rolph couldn't believe his eyes as he made his way up Buncombe Hill on the Taunton side of the Quantocks on January 17, 2006. "At first I thought it was a dog but as I got closer it was obvious it was no pet. It was around four feet long with a three feet tail and a stocky build. It was no more than 30 metres away. I just couldn't believe my eyes. I had to pull over but it ran off as I stopped. I suppose if I was feeling brave I could have chased it." The Alfoxton Road resident said he had heard things said about big cats at Enmore Park Golf Club where he regularly plays. Mervyn Slocombe claims to have seen a wild cat on the practice green at Enmore Park in 1992 and a cast was made of a huge footprint left on the course. Stephen continued: "It was only 4.10pm and the light was good - I didn't even have the headlights on. I thought people who might have animals in the field nearby or walk their dogs in that area should be aware."115 A few weeks later on Saturday morning, February 24 there was another sighting. Paul Smith had been out with friend Pete Coales up on the Quantocks when they spotted the animal at around 7.15am prowling through the grasses. Paul had been red deer-stalking on friend Pete's father's farmland when they both locked eyes on the creature. "The cat was creeping along one of the deer tracks," he said. "It just looked about and was just a bit bigger than a black Labrador, its tail was about three feet long, and we both had it in our scopes. It ran down over the hill into the woodlands - it was doing about 30 miles an hour. It was definitely a panther, but wasn't fully grown," he revealed. The Bridgewater Mercury reported that "Sightings of the beast have occurred infrequently over the past few years, with the most dramatic happening in 1992 when a family was attacked in its car by a creature with "massive teeth".116

Builders at a Nether Stowey construction site spotted two big cats prowling the nearby fields on August 21, 2007. Previous sightings of the 'Beast of Sedgemoor' have worked on the assumption that there was only one creature, but this latest development appeared to turn that theory on its head with the revelation that two could be roaming the countryside. Projects Director Duncan Attwell had been working on the Merlin Timber Frame seven eco homes when he caught sight of the animals in a field just off South Lane. "There were two black cats, but both about the size of a small sheep or a dog," he said. "I went up there and there were some kittens, but much bigger. I was fascinated when I saw it." Mr Attwell managed to get his camera to take a picture of the animal and the image shows a big cat shape in the field.117 Previously the beast has been likened in size to that of a panther and he confirmed it looked similar to the creature. "I saw two adults and what I believe were two little ones," he said. "It did look like a big cat and I have seen panthers before. It definitely was not a domestic cat." The last time the beast was in the news was when a giant print with enormous claws was found in Andersea at the end of April 2007. Two months previous a Bridgwater man said he actually saw a cat-like creature stalking the Quantocks early in the morning when he had been out with his friend.118

Sightings in the Weston-Super-Mare Area

The remains of the calf's carcass were discovered by Mark Penfold on his land at Hewish near Weston-super-Mare sometime around May 2005. Mr Penfold, 38, who keeps about 60 cattle and is also a scrap metal dealer, said the calf was killed and eaten in the space of one night. He said: "I have seen dead cows a lot of times, but never a whole calf gone in one night." He felt that a big cat could be responsible and believed that he has actually seen the animal at night. While out on a lamping expedition for rabbits, Mr Penfold's light reflected from a pair of eyes the like of which he had never seen before. "What I saw down the end of the lamp that night was something else. I have seen deer, badgers, rabbits, hares - I know what animals are out there - but not this," he said. In addition, he has found a large footprint, bigger even than the print left by his bull mastiff-American pit bull cross. "His footprint doesn't come anywhere near it," he added.119

Sightings in the Wells Area

Mike Hanford claimed to have spotted a big cat in a field near Ubley while driving in August 2001. Dozens of others also reported sightings after a woman first told how she had seen what she initially thought was a lioness in a field near Churchill. Mr Hanford, who lives near Chew Valley Lake, told the Evening Post the tan coloured animal looked powerful and was taking distinctive short steps. He said, "It struck me as being bigger than a pig but not quite so big as a Shetland pony." Terry Hooper, co-ordinator of the Bristol-based Exotic Animal Register, believed that the mystery animal could have been a puma which had been dumped, escaped from a private collection or bred in the wild.120

The Wells Journal reported on March 5, 2004 that June Edwards had witnessed a large black cat, about the size of a labrador, only yards away from her at Wookey and which ambled away when disturbed.121

Mark Hill was crossing the Mendips late in mid-June 2004 when he spotted a big cat near Wigmore Farm (ST 557 525), between Priddy and Chewton Mendip. The cat was described as being black in colour and about 4 foot in length and about 3 foot in height. Black panther like creatures had also been reported from Priddy, Axbridge, Shipham Quarry and Bleadney. A lynx like creature had also been reportedly sighted near Wedmore.122123

The following month, on July 23, 2004, and approximately 2 miles to the NNE, police received the report of a recent sighting of ‘what looked like a black panther’ on the straight section of the B3114, heading from Chewton Mendip to West Harptree. The cat was reported to be a ‘lot bigger than a domestic cat, but not as big as a lion’.124

A 'big black cat', the size of a small donkey, approximately 2 foot, 6 inches high, with a long body and a cat's face, was seen at Cheddar. The report was received by the Avon and Somerset Constabulary on May 21, 2006.125

Sightings of a mysterious big cat were reported in Priddy and Wookey in June 2008. The reports came in after farmer Donald Williams said a mysterious animal, believed to be a big cat, had been slaughtering and eating sheep on his farm high on the Mendips. Vicky Hellier, from Wookey, reported seeing a large animal, which looked to have the build of a Rottweiler but which had a long cat-like tail, disappearing through a hole in a hedge on the edge of the village. She said the animal was grey-black in colour. A family from Priddy saw an animal between Lower Pitts Farm and Hunters Lodge near the village. Tne family member, who asked not to be named, said the family was driving near the village when they saw an animal cross the road in front of them. She added: "My son said, 'Oh my God, what's that?' and we all saw the animal, which we think was a black puma, vanish into the woods. I only saw the back end of the animal which had a long, smooth tail and was about as big as a black Labrador. I haven't been out with the dog at night since." Other reports have come from Sarah and Steve Stokesby, from Priddy, who live near the hunt kennels. Sarah said: "A friend of ours was house-sitting for us and heard two loud roars in the night. He told us that the cat went bananas and ran all over the house when it heard the noise." Bob Moores has reported hearing an animal roar in the night while camping on the Mendips, but said he was too scared to leave his tent to investigate. And Jean Sanders-Crook, who lives at Maesbury, has also reported seeing a black puma. Mrs Sander-Crook said: "I was out walking with our German Shepherd dog cross. It was twice the size of the dog and headed off into woods near our house.
"Later I heard two loud, hoarse coughs." Mrs Sanders-Crook also said that a lynx has been spotted in her back garden and that her gardener had seen an animal at Burcott.126

Sightings in the Frome Area

In late October 1995 Ann Coombs witnessed a large cat in the playing field near her home in Bruton. The animal was dark in colour and stood to a height of about 2 foot 6 inches.127

In January 2004 it was reported that farmer, Kenneth Chislett, of Stoke St Michael, had found two of his ewes slaughtered. Even more mystifying was the death of a six-month-old Aberdeen Angus calf in the week previous to the report, weighing in at more than twice the weight of an average adult human. He said: "There were large puncture marks around the throat and their heads or stomachs were eaten." He said that the hunt staff believed that a big cat or large dog had carried out the attacks on his livestock owing to the injuries and size of the animals involved. "There have been rumours of a big cat in the Mells area" added Mr Chislett.128

On May 20, 2004 police received a report of a previous sighting of a very large cat, sandy in colour and with a very long tail, looking 'like a very large lioness’, at Clandown near Radstock.129

On August 12, 2004 the Somerset Guardian reported the sighting of a big cat by Hilary Comer in a field near Common Lane, between Holcombe and Coleford. The witness described the animal as being jet black in colour and about 5 foot in length, without the tail. The cat had been feeding on the carcass of a deer and when disturbed had turned and climbed a tree. In the previous months there had been several sightings of the Coleford Cat and in the previous May four men from Frome had almost hit a big cat whilst driving near Leigh-upon-Mendip.130131

Also in August 2004, Kit Frederickson witnessed a jet-black Alsatian-sized cat in woods near Norton St Philip. The animal had a long tail sweeping down to the ground and shiny whiskers.132

Dana Harwood was working at Norton-Radstock College when she saw a panther-like creature in broad daylight, roaming in a field behind the college in January 2006. "It was during my lunch break and I was in my car, parked alongside the field. I looked over and saw something which I thought at first was a dog, but then saw it was more like a big black cat," she said. She mentioned it to friends at the college nursery and was told that there had been a sighting elsewhere in the neighbourhood.133

A huge cat was spotted prowling in undergrowth in fields in Vobster, near Frome, by Alison Hynam, of Beacon View, Coleford, who was walking her Doberman dog in February 2006. She described the cat as having a sleek, black coat, orange eyes and with a tail the length of its body. Mrs Hynam was with her husband Terry and had just climbed back into her car having walked their dog in a flat field near the scuba diving centre at Vobster. She said: "We had just finished the walk and I was sitting in the car. We were driving off when I looked to my right and saw this black cat walking along the other side of a hedgerow. It must have been only about 6ft away from me and was looking quite unperturbed." She cried out to her husband, who then turned the car around to see if he could get a look. Unfortunately the creature had disappeared into the undergrowth by the time they turned the car around. Mrs Hynam said: "It was so close because it was quite a narrow bit of road we were driving along. It didn't look as if it had a care in the world and it was so sleek and beautiful." She described it as about 2ft tall and 2.5ft to 3ft long from its nose to the base of its tail. The tail itself was as long as the cat's body. She said: "It was as big as my dog Rayne and she is a big dog. I cannot imagine the creature would have taken on my dog but anything smaller I am not so sure." The previous summer a woman, also walking her dog, saw a big cat in fields in Holcombe. A creature similar to the Norton-Radstock College cat mentioned above was also seen in fields off Farrington Road in Paulton. The creature was described as about the size of a large dog but moved with a cat-like motion.134

A mysterious large black cat was spotted roaming at night in Frome Victoria Park. The Badcox Beast, as it has been dubbed, was seen on two consecutive evenings by two park patrol staff. It was first glimpsed at about 9pm on Thursday August 31, 2006 and again the next night at about the same time. The animal was described as being three to four foot tall, six foot in length, with a dark black coat and a long tail. Big cat experts say the eye-witness accounts suggested a panther may have been spotted. The sightings followed a string of similar reports in which a panther-like creature was seen prowling in fields on the outskirts of Frome. Simon Voyle, 18, one of the patrol men, said: "The first time I saw it I was walking through the park with a friend in the pitch dark with my torch after chaining up the gates. It was the length of large filing cabinet and had a curled up tail. We thought it was our imaginations, but the next night we saw it again. Its eyes were bright yellow. The second time we were scared because we were stood in the middle of the park by the miniature golf green which wasn't a clever place to stand."135

Sightings in the Bath Area

June 2003 saw a spate of big cat sightings in the Bath area. A large black animal was spotted by a number of people in Batheaston, sparking concern that a panther or black leopard could be living wild in the area. One of the latest villagers to come face-to-face with the big cat was Karen Hanley, who encountered the animal on an evening stroll. Mrs Hanley, 50, and husband Peter watched in amazement as the black cat walked slowly around the drive leading to the village's Archery Club ground and stared straight at them. "I couldn't quite believe my eyes, " said Karen, "I didn't want to think it was a big cat but when we looked again there was no mistaking it. It was looking straight at me but as soon as it got sight of us, it turned and walked away. At first I thought it was just a moggy but when you looked at the cat in proportion to a barn it was next to, it was huge. It was black, had long legs, a long body and its tail was long and pointing straight out. I have seen enough wildlife programmes to know a big cat when I see one." In the previous few weeks there had also been sightings of a big cat in and around Shockerwick, between Batheaston and Box. Shepherd Richard Alvis, who worked in the hamlet, was convinced that big cats are in the area. A few years ago he had a large lamb killed - and he is certain the attack was not by foxes. "The cats are around this area, there is no doubt about it, " said Mr Alvis, "The area is perfect for them - rabbits, phesants, deers - all perfect food sources for them. And I know many people who have spotted them. When that lamb was killed a few years ago it had its throat ripped and legs mauled. Foxes and dogs just do not kill in that way." Susan Fremantle, who lives in Northend, said she had seen an oversized cat roaming in her flowerbeds late one evening. "It was about 9.30pm and the light was going a bit but I saw something crouching down in the flowerbeds that looked like a large cat. It had a black coat and a long pointed tail. After a while it got to its feet and disappeared through the hedge but I gave our farmer neighbour a ring because I thought it might be one of his dogs but he said it wasn't. You get a lot of badgers and foxes round here but it didn't move like one of them and the shape was wrong."136

On July 18, 2003 police received the report of what was described as a ‘Black panther’, seen near Broadlands Fruit Farm. The animal was witnessed walking across the fields and was described as a ‘large cat – not a domestic cat’.137

Police received a report on July 27, 2004 of the sighting of a 'black puma', the size of a dog, at Bathford near Bath.138

On January 29, 2005 the police received a report of an attack on chickens at Freshford. Large tracks at the scene were thought to be those of a big cat.139

Possible sightings of big cats in the Bath area over the previous six months were reported in April 2007, including sightings on the edge of Weston, on hills between Bath and the M4, and even in the grounds of the Royal United Hospital. A flurry of calls were received by the Bath Chronicle after they had reported that two calves, belonging to Weston farmer Dave Vowles, had been mauled to death. One of the witnesses to the sightings was Richard Roper, 62, who works as an auxiliary at the RUH. He said that he and two other people had been amazed to see a puma-like animal in the car park near the hospital's Princess Anne Wing. "It was late last year and late at night when we saw a black and dense outline moving across the car park," said Mr Roper. "It was quiet but myself and two others confronted it close to the entrance to the Princess Anne Wing. I have seen them in the wild before and when it bore its teeth at us I knew what it was. After a while it disappeared back into the undergrowth and we found the hole in the fence it had got through. We informed security and they said it was probably a big dog, but they do not have eyes and teeth like that. This was all only half a mile from where the calves were attacked so I am sure it must be the same thing." Terry Badman, who lives in Bristol but works in Bath, also called the Chronicle on Friday. He said: "I was driving down from the M4 between Tormarton and Pucklechurch, when I saw a big cat in a field next to the road. I pointed it out to my wife and at first she said 'don't be stupid', but as we both looked there was no question what it was. It was too big for either a cat or a dog and we just couldn't believe our eyes." Maureen McCrory lives in Broadmoor Lane, but her daughter's house backs on to Upper Weston Farm. She said: "Both my daughter and I have often heard noises in the fields that sounded like a big cat. It was certainly not a farm animal or any other creature you would expect in the wild." Sam Avery, from Weston, posted a comment on the [*www.thisisbath.co.uk Chronicle's website] saying: "I have seen many big cats as I did live in Africa for a few years. I do believe they could be the creatures killing the farm animals in our local area. There should be a big search or people walking around at night to see what is really happening." In recent years there have been several reports of big cats roaming in fields and communities around the city. In June 2003, an animal was seen in drives and gardens around Batheaston and a lamb was attacked in nearby Shockerwick. Two years earlier, a big animal was seen on a footpath near Frome Road. Then there was the case of the Beast of Brassknocker Woods in the early 1980s. Residents said there were several wild animals in the Combe Down area with reports of screeches being heard late at night and bark being stripped from trees. No animal was ever found.140

After a spate of black cat sightings around Weston and Corsham, a keen-eyed member of staff at the Bath Chronicle filmed video footage of a mysterious black animal in April 2007. Vanessa Peters, who works for the newspaper's field sales team, was with her family at home in Sandpitts Lane, Gastard, when her husband, Tim, spotted an unusual animal making its way across fields behind their home. The large creature was filmed near the spot where two off-duty police officers saw what they thought was a panther on the Easter weekend. The family had gathered at Mrs Peters' home on Good Friday and her son Justin Beasley had his video camera out to film his baby daughter.
Mrs Peters said: "It was a lovely day so we were all sitting in the garden enjoying the weather, when my husband saw something in the fields behind our house. He said it looked like a big cat. It was definitely something strange. We are used to seeing foxes and dogs. It looked like a big black cat; six of us saw it and we all agreed it was like nothing we had seen before. It was moving very quickly, and it did not move like a dog - they tend to bounce more - this moved just like a cat. It was about 250 to 300 metres away and looked like the size of a calf. We all agreed it looked very strange. We haven't lived here long, but I told a neighbour, who didn't seem surprised. He said he had heard of many sightings over the years. We have been keeping an eye out for it since and I have the camera positioned by the back door, but have not seen it again." The video footage follows a number of 'big cat' sightings over the previous month around Weston.141

Sightings in the Bristol Area

A farmer at Valley View Farm at Dundry built a trap in the hope of snaring the beast which he says had savaged his sheep in November 2001. Robert Harding had also taken video footage of the carnage left behind by the mystery animal which attacked three of his herd. He described the damage inflicted to the sheep as "unbelievable" and said he had never seen injuries like them. He added, "There's a tremendous amount of flesh taken which points to something really big."142

Police, on August 10, 2003, received the report of a previous sighting of a large cat, at Olveston near Bristol, which ran towards the witness and then made off into a hedge. The witness was ‘sure it was a cat’.143

On May 20, 2004 a big cat which looked like a lion was seen entering woods at Sneyd Park in Britol.144

On December 24, 2004 police received reports of a large black puma-like animal at Westbury-on-Trym.145

A member of the public reported witnessing a ginger cat the size of a boxer dog with a head shaped like a puma at Britton, to the Avon and Somerset Constabulary in July 2005.146


Further Reading

  1. Beer, Trevor, 1988. The Beast of Exmoor: Fact or Legend?, Countryside Productions.
  2. Brierly, Nigel, 1988. They Stalk by Night - The Big Cats of Exmoor and the South West, Yeo Valley Productions.
  3. Downes, Jonathan, 1996. The Smaller Mystery Carnivores of the Westcountry, Centre for Fortean Zoology.
  4. Francis, Di, 1983. Cat Country, David and Charles.
  5. Francis, Di, 1993. The Beast of Exmoor and other mystery predators of Britain, Jonathan Cape.
  6. Moiser, Chris, 2001. Mystery Cats of Devon and Cornwall, Bossiney Books.
  7. Moiser, Chris, 2005. Big Cat Mysteries of Somerset, Bossiney Books.
  8. Moiser, Chris, 2007. Mystery Big Cats of Dorset, Inspiring Places.
  9. Shuker, Karl, 1989. Mystery Cats of the World, Robert Hale.

External Links


Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License