Report from Chris Smith
Schoolboys camping on Dartmoor said yesterday 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.
The incident was disclosed as police investigating three sightings of a lion near Wrangaton, Devon, said that a paw print left by the animal was almost certainly made by a big cat. The Bloxham boys, who were taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, were attacked three weeks ago and reported the incident to teachers when they returned to base camp.
"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.
Police said a print found near to where the first of this week's lion sightings was reported, close to Wrangaton golf club, bore "strong similarities" to that of an adult male lion. Sgt Alan Mobbs of Devon and Cornwall police said: "We cannot say definitely it is a lion but there is something out there and we now have good corroborative evidence that it is a big cat."
The cast was studied by Robin Godbeer, keeper at Dartmoor Wildlife Park, who compared it with the paw of a fully grown male lion. "We think it is a big cat print," he said. "We do not know what species it is but is big enough to be that of a juvenile male lion which would weigh between 15 and 18 stone."
The confirmation that a big cat is roaming in the area added to the anxiety in the hamlet of Wrangaton and the nearby village of South Brent. Parents have been advised to accompany their children to school. Police search teams have been withdrawn from the area, which has added to the worry. A lion can travel large distances quickly and police teams will be deployed only when there are firm sightings.
"Some people, especially in the Wrangaton area, are beginning to panic," said Sgt Mobbs. "We have been advised that the animal is unlikely to attack anybody unless it is provoked or cornered. We would assess the danger at the moment as slight. People should be wary, remain vigilant, report any sightings to the police but - in the words of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - 'Don't Panic.' "
Les Andrews, owner of a bakery in South Brent, said: "People are very worried. What if they don't find this lion until it's too late, until after it has jumped on someone. It has been out there for some time, they say there is blood on its mane already, it might be desperate. Everyone is talking about it. My bread round this morning took twice as long as usual because everyone wanted to know if I had seen the lion."
Douglas Everett, the nine-year-old son of a local estate agent, had ordered his father to place his toy lion in the shop window with the message, "Found in my bedroom". A member of staff explained: "Douglas wanted his dad to reassure everyone in the village that there was nothing to worry about."
Police also received a string of calls from "experts". Suggestions ranged from equipping officers with large nets to erecting loudspeakers that would play animal noises and attract the lion into the open where it could be captured. One man who claimed to have captured lions and tigers around the world faxed his curriculum vitae to police headquarters and offered his services. Reporters from the tabloid newspapers have been seen on the moor dressed as Great White Hunters and lion tamers in their effort to glimpse the beast.
The lion reportedly was seen first at 9.16am on Thursday and a second sighting was recorded at 11am four miles away at Stidston. Jeff Haynes of the Dartmoor National Park said there was a great deal of anecdotal evidence of wild cats on the 365 square miles of moorland. He said: "A year ago there were one or two sightings of a big cat, but we have never heard of a lion before. Our rangers will be on the lookout for the beast today. They are in radio contact with each other and with the police and would be able to track the animal if they saw it."
© The Telegraph, 21 st November 1998
ARMED police with tracker dogs are hunting a lion on the edge of Dartmoor. Last night (Nov 19), police warned locals to stay indoors and not walk dogs. One expert said: "If it is cold and hungry it is going to look for food."
The alarm was sounded by 42-year-old Paul Gourley who said he spotted the big cat, which had a bloody mane, after dropping his children off at school yesterday. It fled when his van came within 20 yards and jumped through a hedge, vanishing into fields. As the hunt began a six-inch diameter paw print was found in a muddy field a few yards from houses at Wrangaton near Ivybridge. Asked if he could have been mistaken, Mr Gourley said: "I know a lion when I see one. It was tawny in colour and very big."
The mystery beast is described as shabby-looking, 5ft long and weighing as much as 20 stone. It was first spotted in a country lane half a mile from the main A38 Devon Expressway, linking Exeter and Plymouth, and close to the Wrangaton Golf Club. Later two other people saw it in fields at Marley Head, three or four miles away. Wildlife parks and zoos in the area said none of their big cats was missing.
Experts said the lion was unlikely to attack humans. Ellis Daw, owner of Dartmoor Wildlife Park at Sparkwell, said: "I hope they do not kill it. We would be happy to offer it a home, at least in the short term." Police said they would try to tranquillise the lion, thought to be aged about two. A spokesman added: "Two crews of marksmen are at the scene and we have brought in two dog handlers to search the immediate area." The hunt was halted as darkness fell.
In two separate TV reports on Nov 19 [BBC South + Westcountry] it was said the large paw print found equals that of a mature male puma, which might also represent a lion possibly around 18 months of age. Gourley, who had the best view, described the animal as being very thin with a poor coat. Blood around the mane probable evidence of a recent kill. Latest news reports (Nov 20) include testimony from two farm workers who noticed large paw prints in nearby fields and on a track this past 10-14 days. A slaughtered sheep was discovered quite recently, its carcass exhibiting signs of deep puncture wounds and slash marks inflicted by an unidentified animal that was neither fox nor dog. Despite police resuming a search today the creature still remains at large.
© The Mirror, 20 th November 1998
Lion hunters armed with shotguns are being warned by police not to roam the fringes of Dartmoor.
Devon and Cornwall Police say that since a young male lion was apparently spotted on the loose near the village of Wrangleton, reports of would-be hunters wanting to bag the beast have also been made.
Armed police and tracker dogs spent most of Thursday searching fields, hedges and woods after a motorist said that the bloody-maned beast jumped through a hedge near the south Devon village.
The search was later called off, but police say it will be reactivated if there is a fresh sighting.
Now, however, they say they are equally concerned about people with shotguns looking for the animal.
"We are actively discouraging this because of concerns for personal safety," said Sergeant Alan Mobbs.
He said a lion was unlikely to attack unless cornered.
And he said that even being armed with a gun would not necessarily help in the event of a big cat attack.
Sergeant Alex Johnston said a lion could travel up to 50 miles in 12 hours.
"There are 365 square miles of Dartmoor so it could be anywhere.
"We have had reports over the last 15 to 20 years of big cats in Devon and Cornwall and no-one has been attacked. It is unlikely to happen now."
Devon County Council said on Friday that, following advice from police, parents of school children in the Wrangaton and South Brent areas were advised to return to normal arrangements for school travel.
Print belongs to big cat On Thursday it had been advised as a precaution that youngsters should not walk or cycle to school alone, and those travelling by bus should be met.
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 Thursday 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.
© BBC News, 20 th November 1998
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