Alien Big

Large puma- or leopardlike CAT of Europe.

Etymology: Alien is used in the sense of "out-of-place."

Variant names: ABC, Babette, Beast of Céza-llier, Beast of Estérel, Beast of Noth, Beast of Valescure, Black panther, British Big Cat, Chapalu (in Wales), Elli (in Finland), Hannover puma, Monster of Pindray, Odenwald beast, Pornic panther.

Physical description: Many are described as jetblack cats, a melanistic morph common only in Asian leopards and American jaguars. Behavior: Attacks livestock. Distribution: Most common in Great Britain (see British Big Cat). Scattered reports occur throughout Europe. Its existence in the British isles especially seems unlikely from an ecological standpoint. A partial list of European places where Alien big cats have been reported follows: Czech Republic—Jinaœvice. Denmark—Meldungen. Finland—Imatra, Kekaleenmaki, Kristines-tad, Ruokolahti, Vaasa.

France—Cézallier; Epinal, Vosges Department; Estérel; Forêt de Chize, near Niort; Noth, Creuse Department; Pindray near Poitiers; Por-nic, Brittany Region; Valescure.

Germany—Bruchmühlbach-Miesau, Deggendorf, Erding, Ernsdorf, Fürth, Gelnhausen, Hannover, Heubach, Kalbach, Lindenfels, Odenwald, Rantrum, Saarland State, Schwalbach, Soest, Steinbach, Winterkasten.

Italy—Bari, Foggia.

Switzerland—Graubünden.

Significant sightings: Some 289 sheep and 3 cows were killed from February to November 1977 around Epinal, Vosges Department, France, by big cats or dogs with eyes like a lynx's and fur like a wolf s. In the summer of 1978, at least two animals that had survived the winter were seen by various witnesses, who described them as large and black with short legs and big paws. The animals disappeared from the region in 1979.

In July 1982, Uwe Sander of Rantrum, Schleswig-Holstein State, Germany, claimed to have been attacked by a puma rumored to be at large north of Hamburg. Hunters and police officers searched the area to no avail. Sander obtained some hair from the animal, but analysis showed it had come from a rabbit.

A lionlike cat the size of a calf terrorized the area around Noth, Creuse Department, central France, in November and December 1982, killing cattle and sheep.

Black panthers were sighted in the Odenwald, Hesse State, Germany, in August 1989 and near Heubach, Hesse State, in October of the same year. In the first two days of November, several people reported panther encounters in Fürth, Steinbach, Winterkasten, and Lindenfels. However, few tracks were found, no domestic animals were killed, and organized hunts yielded nothing.

On June 22, 1992, forestry official Martti Arvinen encountered a golden-brown lioness in the wilderness near Ruokolahti, Finland. The animal turned and ran. Numerous tracks were found, as well as the half-eaten carcass of a young moose (called an "elk" in Europe). So many other sightings in Finland took place over the next week that the newspapers nicknamed the animal "Elli."

Possible explanations:

(1) Leopards (Panthera pardus) were common from Africa to Indonesia before their range began to shrink around 1800. They are still found in forested and rocky areas of Africa and East Asia. Melanism (black coloration caused by a recessive gene) is most common in India and Southeast Asia. Spots are still present but rendered less visible by the dark pigment. Males can measure 8 feet in total length and weigh up to 200 pounds. They are lone, nocturnal hunters, stalking their prey and killing swiftly with a bite to the throat.

(2) Lions (Panthera led) lived in Southern and Eastern Europe from 700,000 years ago to around A.D. 100. Upper Paleolithic cave art, particularly that in Grotte Chauvet in France, features them in surprising detail, down to the black dots at the base of the whiskers. None are depicted as maned, leading some to speculate that European male lions were maneless; however, cave artists may have favored the dominant females of the pride.

(3) The much smaller American Jaguar (Panthera onca), found from Mexico to Argentina, is also prone to melanism.

(4) The Puma (Puma concdOr) is only found in North and South America. Eradicated in the eastern United States by the early twentieth century, it is now making a comeback (see Eastern Puma). It ranges from light to dark brown in color and has no spots. Melanism is virtually unknown. The average length is 6-8 feet (including tail), and the animal is about 3 feet high at the shoulder. It is wary of humans and avoids contact. Its normal prey is deer, but it also eats fishes, rabbits, and game birds.

(5) The European wildcat (Felis silvestris sil-vestris) has been making a comeback in certain areas, particularly Switzerland, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, France, and Germany.

(6) The Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) was rein-troduced in eastern Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia in the 1970s and has reoccupied about two-thirds of the Swiss Alps. Like the European wildcat, this smaller animal could be mistaken for a big cat from a distance.

(7) The Gray wolf (Canis lupus) is still found in the wilder parts of Europe, but it is so well known that misidentifications are unlikely.

(8) Paranormal ENTITIES without a zoological basis, perhaps having a psychic nature. Sources: "British Report," Doubt, no. 18 (1947): 269; Jean-Louis Brodu and Michel Meurger, Les félins-mystère: Sur les traces d'un mythe moderne (Paris: Pogonip, 1984); Ulrich Magin, "Continental European Big Cats," Pursuit, no. 71 (1985): 114-115; Ulrich Magin, "The Odenwald Beast," Fortean Times, no. 55 (Autumn 1990): 30-31; Véronique Campion-Vincent, "Appearances of Beasts and Mystery-Cats in France," Folklore 103 (1992): 160-183; Sven Rosén, "Out of Africa: Are There Lions Roaming Finland?" Fortean Times, no. 65 (October-November 1992): 44-45; Ulrich Magin, "The Saarland Panther," INFO Journal, no. 68 (February 1993): 22-23; Ulrich Magin, Trolle, Yetis, Tatzelwurmer (Munich, Germany: C. H. Beck, 1993), pp. 51-59; Michel Meurger, "Leopards of the Great Turk: Exotic Felines in French Cultural History," Fortean Studies 1 (1994): 198-209.

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