Big Cat Sightings In Ayrshire

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Alien Big Cat of the British Isles.

Variant names: Beast of Bodmin Moor, Beast of Exmoor, Nottingham Lion, and Surrey Puma. Many other nicknames have been bestowed by the media, among them: Ashley leopard (Kent), Ayrshire puma (Scotland), Beast of Ballymeana (Antrim, Northern Ireland), Beast of Barnet (Hertfordshire), Beast of Basingstoke (Hampshire), Beast of Beacon Hill (Sussex), Beast of Bennachie (Scotland), Beast of Bin (Grampians), Beast of Blagdon (Somerset), Beast of Bont (Ceredigion, Wales), Beast of Broadoak (Gloucestershire), Beast of Broomhill (Yorkshire), Beast of Bucks, Beast of Carsington (Derbyshire), Beast of Chiswick (London), Beast of Essex, Beast of Inkberrow (West Midlands), Beast of Margam (Wales), Beast of Milton Keynes (Buckinghamshire), Beast of Otmoor (Oxfordshire), Beast of the Borders (Shropshire), Beast of Tonmawr (Wales), Beast of Tweseldown (Hampshire), Black beast (Gloucestershire), Black beast of Moray (Scotland), Brechfa beast (Carmarthenshire, Wales), Cadmore cat (Gloucestershire), Cannich puma (Highland, Scotland), Catmose cat (Rutland), Chiltern puma (Buckinghamshire), Durham puma, Eccles cheetah (Norfolk), Fen tiger (Cambridgeshire), Highland puma (Scotland), Lindsey leopard (Lin

Brechfa Beast
BRITISH BIG CAT carrying a rabbit in its mouth, photographed by Selwyn Jolly at Morvah, Cornwall, in 1988. It measured 3 feet from head to hindquarters. (Fortean Picture Library)

colnshire), Mendips monster (Somerset), Monster of the M25 (Hertfordshire), Munstead monster (Surrey), Norfolk gnasher, Peak panther (Derbyshire), Penistone panther (Yorkshire), Penwith puma (Cornwall), Powys beast (Wales), Rossshire lioness (Scotland), Skerray beast (Highland, Scotland), Terror of Tedburn (Devon), Tilford lynx (Surrey), and Wildcat of the Wolds (Humberside).

Physical description: Puma- or lionlike cat. Ranges in size from a terrier to a great dane. Length, 3-5 feet. Shoulder height, 18 inches-2 feet 6 inches. Brown, rusty, gray, or sandy but often pure black. Sometimes striped or spotted. Flat face. Ears are sometimes tufted. Short, or long, powerful legs. Large paws. Pointed tail is of variable length, sometimes with a white tip.

Specific descriptions vary widely. Witnesses have also referred to similarities with a cheetah, monkey, tiger, partially striped cat, bear, or German shepherd dog. There may be two varieties in Scotland, both black but in two different sizes. See KeIIAS Cat.

Behavior: Snarls, howls, roars, or screams. Kills and sometimes eats livestock and game. Dogs are terrified of it.

Tracks: Cat- or doglike. Up to 5 inches long, which is larger than a German shepherd's. Some of the tracks show claws, which rules out an arboreal habitat and most often indicates a dog; however, many cats keep their claws extruded to facilitate movement and balance when sprinting, leaping, or walking on certain types of terrain.

Habitat: Fields, gardens, woods, hills, streets.

Distribution: In many parts of Great Britain but especially Hampshire, Surrey, and East and West Sussex in the southeast; Devon and Cornwall in the southwest; Lancashire, Cheshire, Nottinghamshire, and North Yorkshire; Ceredi-gion in Wales; and Renfrewshire, Ayrshire, Strathclyde, Highland, and East Lothian in Scotland.

Significant sightings: Sheep kills in May 1810 at Ennerdale Water, Cumbria, England; in 1905 at Great Badminton, South Gloucestershire, England; and in January 1927 in Inverness, Highland, Scotland, might have been depredations by big cats. See Alien Big Dog.

On July 18, 1963, a truck driver named David Back stopped in Oxleas Wood, Shooters Hill, Bexley, Greater London, to help what he thought was an injured dog. However, the animal, which had long legs and a curled tail, jumped up and ran off into the woods. Later, police reported that a cheetahlike animal had jumped over the hood of a squad car. A search covered some 850 acres and turned up some clawed tracks.

On September 20, 1976, Alec Jamieson of Skegness, Lincolnshire, England, saw a sandy-colored cat about 5 feet long that left 2.5-inch x 3-inch tracks.

Donald Mackenzie and his son were hunting foxes December 12, 1977, when they saw and wounded a large cat swimming the River Naver near Bettyhill, Highland, Scotland. It had red eyes, a dark coat, and a white chest. They chased it in their Land Rover. It outpaced them, though Mackenzie managed to shoot it again.

Using a sheep's head as bait, Ted Noble captured a female puma alive near Cannich, Highland, Scotland, October 29, 1980. However, cat sightings and livestock killings persisted afterward, indicating there were other predators in the area. In fact, the animal captured by Noble turned out to be elderly, lame, well-groomed, overweight, and so tame it purred the next day for visitors at the Highland Wildlife Park, where it was taken. Some suspected that an illegal exotic-pet owner had pulled a fast one by planting an unwanted puma in Noble's trap.

In November 1981, a large gray cat was seen by many witnesses at Tonmawr, Neath Port Talbot, Wales. Steven Joyce managed to get some photos of a large cat at a distance and two smaller ones at close range. Di Francis visited the area later, taking a photo of a 4-foot black cat and finding prints 5 inches long.

On June 16, 1999, a large, orange-and-yellow cat with black stripes reared up on its hind legs and attacked a forklift truck driven by Raymond

Cibor near Armthorpe, Doncaster, England. Cibor said it looked like a tiger, but police found tracks later identified as a dog's.

In September 1999, video footage of a large black cat was captured by a closed-circuit security camera at a brick-making plant near Telford, Shropshire, England. Security guards had seen a 6-foot panther twice before.

Shortly after midnight one night in December 1999, Alastair Skinner was driving near Rogie Falls, Highland, Scotland, when he got within 5 feet of what looked like a black panther with a long tail.

A 5-foot cat allegedly clawed and bit eleven-year-old Joshua Hopkins near Trellech, Carmarthenshire, Wales, on August 23, 2000. His wounds were treated at a nearby medical center.

Elaine Ainslie saw a black panther-like cat while she was walking her dog in a field in Or-niston, East Lothian, Scotland, on July 19, 2001. It had a long tail and was very muscular. She picked up her dog and backed away until it was out of sight.

Vicar Kenneth Wakefield observed a glossy black panther crossing a road near Launceston, Cornwall, on September 25, 2001. It was about 6 feet long and 3 feet high at the shoulder.

Possible explanations: Although classed as a big cat (with pumas, leopards, and lions), the British big cat might be explained in some instances by small cats (wildcats, lynxes, or feral domestics). When seen at a distance, sizes are difficult to estimate. Because descriptions vary so widely, a multicausal explanation seems likely.

(1) The Scottish wildcat (Felis silvestris grampia) was common in England, Wales, and Scotland until the end of the fifteenth century. It was exterminated everywhere in Britain by the 1860s except in Scotland, where after World War I, it began to increase in numbers. It grows up to 3 feet 6 inches in length, slightly larger than a domestic cat. The coat is a gray-brown or tabby color, with white on the throat. Its head is broader, teeth sharper, limbs longer, and tail shorter than a domestic cat's. It has a bushy, blunt-ended tail with a well-defined pattern of black stripes. The average weight of males is

11 pounds. Primarily nocturnal, the wildcat feeds mostly on rodents, as well as rabbits and birds. It inhabits woodlands (especially deciduous or mixed), scrubland, seacoasts, and rocky areas with low human density. Some mystery cats could be surviving populations of this wildcat in pockets of England and Wales.

(2) Feral Domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) undoubtedly account for many sightings; among them are the smaller gray cats of Tonmawr, Wales. Feral cats do not grow appreciably larger in the wild than in domesticity. The largest recorded weight is 42 pounds. An odor of brussels sprouts characteristic of feral cats has been noted in some sightings.

(3) Hybrid feral domestic cats x Scottish or European wildcats (Felis silvestris silvestris). Mating is common between these closely related species. Colin Matheson has suggested that a wildcat strain exists among feral cats in parts of Wales. Between 1873 and 1904, the Scottish wildcat was experimentally crossed with several domestic breeds, but the hybrids proved too wild for domestication. Color or size variations are not necessarily evidence of a hybrid, which tend to be smaller, with tapered tails, fused black banding, and white markings. See Kellas Cat.

(4) Hybrid feral domestic cats x escaped Jungle cats (Felis chaus), suggested by Karl Shuker. Such hybrids are bred in the United States and have been foundation registered since 1995. Called a chausie, this breed is known for its nearly 6-foot vertical leap, large size (14-18 inches at the shoulder), tufted ears, speed, and a weight of 20 pounds or more.

(5) At least four introduced specimens of the Leopard cat (Felis bengalensis) were shot or found dead in England between 1984 and 1994. This Asian cat can also mate with domestic cats to produce spotted hybrids, which have been bred in the United States since 1963 as the Bengal variety.

(6) Four types of escaped or released exotic pets that are now naturalized and breeding in the wild could be responsible for mystery cat sightings: a tawny or gray Puma (Puma concolor), 5 feet long with a 2-foot tail, weight 200 pounds, small head, neck relatively long, short ears, large paws—even a hypothetical melanistic (black) variety; a Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), 3 feet 4 inches long with a 4.5-11-inch tail, long limbs, black-tufted ears, golden eyes, yellowish-gray to reddish-brown color; a Leopard (Panthera pardus), 6 feet 6 inches long with a 3-foot tail, spots or melanistic coat, elongate and muscular body; and a female Lion (Panthera leo), identifiable by a black tuft at the end of the tail. This could especially be true after the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act required special licenses for exotic pets. (The 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act offered stricter penalties.) Irresponsible owners may have released the animals rather than pay for a license. The Clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) and Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) are other exotic possibilities.

(7) Big cats (pumas and panthers) kill by sinking their claws into the victim's head or hindquarters (usually deer), while breaking of the neck is used for stronger adversaries; consumption of the victim's abdomen, lack of skeletal damage, and location of the carcass in a secluded spot are also characteristic. Small cats (lynxes and wildcats) subsist primarily on rabbits and rodents, rarely attacking larger prey.

(8) Feral Domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) or Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes). When seen from a distance, many dog breeds can appear cat-like—especially those with small heads, rounded ears, and short legs. Packs of stray dogs can quickly leave a sheep devoid of flesh. Large droppings found at a deer kill in Scotland in 1998 contained fox DNA. Massive pawprints (5 inches or more) are more likely indicative of a dog (unless the cat's feet are vastly out of proportion to its body length).

(9) Skulls that have been found turned out to be from a leopard-skin rug (discovered behind a hedge on Dartmoor in January 1988) and from a wall-mounted tiger trophy (found on Exmoor in 1993).

(10) Escaped Wolverines (Gulo gulo) are occasionally found in portions of Wales and southern England. The world's largest weasel, it can grow to 4 feet long and 14-17 inches at the shoulder.

(11) A surviving pumalike Pleistocene felid, such as the lion-sized, short-tailed Scimitar-toothed cat (Homotherium). However, it is unlikely that such an animal could persist virtually unnoticed by hunters and livestock owners for thousands of years when the smaller Scottish wildcat was nearly exterminated.

(12) An unknown species of big cat, proposed by Di Francis, though it would have to account for a nearly impossibly wide range of colors, anatomy, and behaviors.

(13) A surviving indigenous variety of Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) that did not die out at the end of the Pleistocene.

(14) Other escaped or released exotic animals have accounted for cat reports, including a Binturong (Arctictis binturong), Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), and Eurasian badger (Meles meles).

Sources: William Cobbet t , Rural Rides (London: J. M. Dent , 1912), vol. 1, pp. 286-287; "If You Go Down to the Woods Today," INFO Journal, no. 13 (May 1974): 3-18; Robert J. M. Rickard, "The 'Surrey Puma' and Friends: Mor e Myst ery Animals," Fortean Times, no. 14 (January 1976): 3-9; Mike Tomkies, My Wilderness Wildcats (London: Macdonald and Jane's, 1977); Bob Rickard, "The Scottish 'Lioness,'" Fortean Times, no. 26 (Summer 1978): 43-44; Bob Rickard, "The Scottish Lions," Fortean Times, no. 32 (Summer 1980): 23-26; Janet and Colin Bord, "Strange Creatures in Powys," Fortean Times, no. 34 (Winter 1981): 18-20; "Scottish Puma: Saga or Farce?" Fortean Times, no. 34 (Winter 1981): 24-25, 36; Di Francis, Cat Country: The Quest for the British Big Cat (Newt on Abbot, England: David and Charles, 1983); "Once More with Felines," Fortean Times, no. 44 (Summer 1985): 28-31; "The Black Beasts of Moray," Fortean Times, no. 45 (Winter 1985): 10-12; Andy Roberts, Cat Flaps: Northern Mystery Cats (Br ighouse,

England: Brigantia, 1986); D. D. French, L. K. Cor bet t, and N. East er bee, "Morphological Discr iminant s of Scot t ish Wildcat s (Felis silvestris), Domestic Cats (F. catus) and Their Hybrids," Journal of Zoology 214 (1988): 235-259; Nigel Brierly, They Stalk by Night: The Big Cats of Exmoor and the South-West (South Molton, England: Nigel Brierly, 1989); Karl Shuker, Mystery Cats of the World (London: Robert Hale, 1989), pp. 33-69; James Wallis, "British Big Cats," Fortean Times, no. 54 (Summer 1990): 30-31; "Mystery Moggies," Fortean Times, no. 59 (September 1991): 18-20; Michael Goss, "Alien Big Cat Sightings in Britain: A Possible Rumour Legend?" Folklore 103 (1992): 184-202; Mike Dash, "Mystery Moggies," Fortean Times, no. 64 (August -Sept ember 1992): 44-45; Karl Shuker, "The Lovecats," Fortean Times, no. 68 (April-May 1993): 50-51; Richard Halst ead and Paul Sieveking, "An ABC of British ABCs," Fortean Times, no. 73 (February-March 1994): 41-44; Paul Sieveking, "Beasts in Our Midst," Fortean Times, no. 80 (April-May 1995): 37-43; Karl Shuker, "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolverine?" Fortean Times, no. 85 (February-March 1996): 36-37; Jonathan Downes, The Smaller Mystery Carnivores of the Westcountry (Exwick, England: CFZ Publications, 1996); Paul Sieveking, "Cool Cats," Fortean Times, no. 88 (July 1996): 28-31; Paul Sieveking, "Wat ch Out: Big Cat About," Fortean Times, no. 101 (August 1997): 23-26; Paul Sieveking, "Cats in the Hats," Fortean Times, no. 111 (June 1998): 14-15; Paul Sieveking, "Nothing More than Felines," Fortean Times, no. 121 (April 1999): 20-21; Paul Sieveking, "Where the Wild Things Are," Fortean Times, no. 133 (April 2000): 18-19; "Alien Big Cat Attacks Boy," Fortean Times, no. 140 (December 2000): 6; Paul Sieveking, "Millennium Moggy Survey," Fortean Times, no. 146 (June 2001): 16-17; Chris Moiser, Mystery Cats of Devon and Cornwall (Launceston, England: Bossiney Books, 2001); Sarah Hartwell, Domestic x Wild Hybrids in the Wild, 2001, http:// member s.a ol.com/jshar t well/hybr ids.ht m; Jim Gilchr ist, "Beast s on t he Pr owl," The Scotsman,

February 2, 2002; Scott Weidensaul, The Ghost with Trembling Wings (New York: North Point Press, 2002), pp. 128-150; British Big Cat Society, http://www.britishbigcats.com.

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