Report from Chris Smith
In the remote north-west Highlands, where the mainland is close to the Island of Skye, a narrow track turns off the road to the Kylerhea ferry and winds its way up Glen Bernera through bare heathery hillside and forestry plantations to the isolated community of Ardintoul.
On a bright, frosty February morning in 1986, Charlie Greenlees, a forester, was asked to drive up there to check on a pile of fertiliser which had been left earlier in preparation for scattering over the forest from a helicopter. At about midday he stopped his van by the pile of plastic sacks, seeing that they were all intact and had not been damaged by the hard frost. It was very quiet up there, high above the sea and the small village. Charlie sat in his van, looking out at the view with pleasure.
Then he noticed an animal, about 20 yards away, sitting on its haunches in the heather. It was light fawn, the colour of a Labrador, with a cat-like face, ears and whiskers, about the size of a deerhound but much more thickset.
Charlie could hardly believe his eyes. Although he had his camera with him, he was afraid to move in case he frightened the creature away. He watched it intently for two minutes, then the animal rose and bounded slowly across the road, to disappear into the pine forest. Charlie failed to notice its tail because he was too busy looking at its head. When it had disappeared, he left the van and went to look for footprints, but the ground was frozen hard and the creature left no trace.
When he got home, Charlie telephoned the Wildlife Park in Kingussie to report what he had seen. They agreed that the animal sounded like a puma, but told him they had no reports of Pumas seen north of Fort William so it could not have been one, (thereby demonstrating a singular lack of logic).
For some time Charlie did not mention his sighting to anyone locally as he thought he would be laughed at, but sometime later, after he had moved away from the area, he discussed it with another man who had lived there. He heard that there had been other sightings in the territory, and some one had seen the beast in their garden. One person had found a deer killed and partially eaten. the skin had been rolled back to allow the predator to get at the meat ( pumas are fastidious eaters who cut the skin and roll it back in just this manner)
The area is sparsely populated, with vast tracks of mountain and glen. It would not be difficult for a wary animal to stay hidden from man. Food abounds in the form of deer, rabbits, mice, wild goats and sheep. The sheep run on the hills for most of the year and the disappearance of a few would hardly be noticed. Probably more are killed on the main roads then would be taken by a large cat. Who knows there may even be a family of them in the area.
Phenomenal News Summer 1996
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