Report from Phil Crosby
Received this today. Three sightings from what appears to be a very good quality witness. I have written back asking about photo, and the film he mentions in second sighting - if genuine this could be very good indeed. I have also asked him for more details on his being bitten by an otter - I remember the likelihood of being bitten by otters was debated when we discussed the Doris Moore case. This could be relevant.
Hi Phil - I sent this to Mike Inglis but it got bounced back to me - seems his inbox is stuffed to bursting!!! Thought I would try yours.
I have enjoyed looking through the big cats site. Have had a few experiences you might be interested in.
1) late autumn. Winter 1993/1994 (November/December)
Big black cat, labrador size, long bushy tail, all black, muscular and powerful, easily 2 metres long. Bounded across main road at Glenfinnan, Highland, just past railway bridge/junction to forest track down south side of Loch Shiel. Cleared road in two bounds and crashed off into undergrowth, Had £20,000 camera equipment and by time I got out it was well gone apart from the noise as it crashed through bushes. This was broad daylight, middle of morning, late autumn. Winter (November/December) 1993/1994.
2) December 1991
Mentioned it to a friend and ex-stalker who was working for SNH at the time, and he went down and spoke to some of the locals in Glenfinnan and one of the stalkers whom he knew admitted that he had seen it in the glen one New Year morning a year or two previously and it ran off up into the forest. Stalker said he had not told anyone because he did not want to be ridiculed.
3) Spring 1992
Some months later two other very close friends were driving back down into Glenfinnan village from Arisaig and in the glen something "large black and feline" bounded across the road in front of their car. It was very dark but they said it was a large cat. Both sensible sober folks, very experienced outdoors.
4) 1995 (several sightings)
About three years later I spoke to the son of the owner of the Princes House Hotel just west of Glenfinnan, and he said his dad had spotted the cat on several occasions, once when it bounded across the road at the same spot as I had seen it some years before, and then again from the bedroom window of the hotel where it appeared to be stalking something up the side of the burn. I phoned and spoke to the father who confirmed what he had seen.
I also spoke to someone who had seen a similar animal in Glen Roy, which bounded over a dyke and disappeared into the trees. This was around 1995 or 1996.
6) Date unknown
Interesting one this. My girlfriend and I were on Mull filming otters over one Christmas and New Year, and as we drove round to Loch Na Keal, on its north side, I spotted a large cat on a ridge above the road looking down, less than 50 metres away. I stopped and as I was dressed in camo-gear I tried to stalk it but it crashed off into the trees. We both saw its head and agreed it was black and large.
7) Date unknown
A few months later I was there myself filming and drove round to the south side of Loch na Keal, and was scanning the loch for otters and the hill for eagles when I spotted a black thing a long way off. It was a grey spring day, and with no shadows so this black shape was intriguing. My binoculars are 8x (very very expensive and sharp) but not powerful enough so I set up the cine camera (Arriflex) and a Canon 300mm f2.8 lens with a 2x converter, on a carbonfibre tripod which is really steady. This lens/converter combination gives something like 30x magnification.
Through it I was able to see a black cat, fairly large and it was obviously stalking. I scanned the hill and saw some fully grown sheep above and to the west of it, which it was obviously after. It stalked them and they saw it as there was little cover, so the sheep moved off and the cat gave up and sat up. As this happened I ran the camera, as I was in the habit of ALWAYS setting the exposure and connecting the battery when I put the kit together. I got about 20 seconds or so of this action.
Interesting debate was on the radio a few weeks later (spring time) when there was a discussion on Radio Scotland about lamb losses on the Mull coast which farmers were blaming on the reintroduced sea-eagles which nest in and around this area (and which I had seen there several times as well as golden eagles, adults and juveniles). I contacted SNH and told their area officer about this strange cat and said that if it was happy to stalk full-grown sheep it would not have a problem with a lamb. They were interested but non-committal and I heard no more from them. Through a mutual contact the BBC heard about the footage I had taken and contacted us and they got a print from the film neg and had it looked at by cat experts in Bristol who said they though it was not anything exotic but probably some large feral native cat or melanistic wildcat cross. They did not return the print, but we still have the original neg here, although it is currently in storage as we have had to move house due to a dryrot disaster. It will surface eventually and we will be happy to show it to you.
8) Autumn 2001
Most recent strange one was last autumn (2001) in Glen Feshie, Cairngorms. There is a substantial chunk of ground along the River Feshie, with lots of trees and baits pine martens, red squirrels, roe deer, badgers etc. The owner had a roe deer carcase out for the carnivores and was walking around one evening with his dog, while I was talking with the group of guests, and he came back looking puzzled and a wee bit perplexed and said to me that the roe deer was gone. He then added that, he was surprised not that it had gone, but that he found it nearby but five feet up a tree! And it had been well chewed by something. I think this has happened at least once before to other bait he has left out. He keeps an open mind but was mighty puzzled. Anyway that's that, for what its worth.
Follow up on the Lochabers sightings I reported this morning. Worth reading for additional detail on the sightings, and for detail of how he got bitten by an otter!
Many thanks for this. You clearly know your way around the outdoors, and are well familiar with the wildlife normally to be found in Scotland. I'd be interested to know how you came to be bitten by an otter - they are not normally aggressive to humans, so I assume you upset it in some way?
Initial thoughts on these three experiences:
1. Certainly sounds like a big cat, and if you have watched big cats in Africa you will surely recognise a cat from a dog! Do you have a view on what species it may have been?
6. This again sounds very much like a big cat - I would be fascinated to see the film if it does come to light. Is this at all likely? I am surprised the BBC were so non-committal - although that may be because the attitude has changed in recent years. Now we have journalists coming forward as witnesses, as well as serving police officers. We have two ex-police wildlife liaison officers working with us, and the official line from the police is much less dismissive than once it was. We also had a 20 minute slot on BBC Newsnight earlier this year, and the producer has recently contacted us to look at doing a follow up on the existence of big cats in Scotland.
8) This is very definitely leopard behaviour - I have observed leopards doing this with carcasses in Africa on more than one occasion, and have always been astounded by the sheer strength they display. I once watched a male leopard (admittedly a big one) carry a fully grown Eland > bull up a tree, which is an enormous weight. This is however normally done to protect a kill from scavengers on the ground such as lion/hyena. Do you have any photos of this experience?
I appreciate your request for privacy on this - would you be happy for us to include these three experiences, with the proviso that we withhold names etc. Obviously we wish to build up a picture of cat behaviour across Scotland so would like to record these sightings, but do not wish to compromise you or other witnesses in any way. Also, the map references would be very useful if you have them handy.
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