Report from Chris Smith
A mystery beast said to be prowling Edinburgh woodlands is only the latest in a rash of big cat sightings across the countryside. The reports of a predator slinking around golf courses and woods in the west of the city come just weeks after numerous sightings in the Pentland Hills. Those scare stories prompted the city's zoo to deny one of their panthers had escaped.
And in January, West Lothian police and wildlife experts confirmed "large cat-like paw prints" had been found. The latest riddle surrounds the black cat which is wreaking havoc on farming communities in the Welsh hills around Aberstwyth.
Locals are calling for action after yet another grim find of savaged livestock blamed on the Beast of Bont. Yet a search of the surrounding terrain, stretching more than a 100 square miles, has yielded nothing.
Almost anywhere you go in Britain you will find a localised tale of a brutal predator terrorising the hillside, devouring helpless lambs and leaving their blooded carcasses in its wake. Reports of huge claw wounds are common with paw prints occasionally found. The sightings are just not restricted to the wilder parts of Britain and Northern Ireland.
As well as Edinburgh there have been urban sightings in Southampton, Falmouth and Dundee. In 1993 the country went Beast of Bodmin barmy with the Sun lending its report to try and track down the creature. There have been more than a hundred sightings of the infamous animal.
And the growing list of captured cats shows that its no mere imagined feline frenzy. In 1994 a leopard was killed by a motorist in Hampshire, and a farmer in Devon shot dead a South American Leopard. A year earlier a puma was captured near Inverness.
Bob Rickard, editor of the Fortean Times which chronicles the bizarre and unknown says: "We've been monitoring the situation since 1964 which was the year the Surrey Puma case blew up and the public became aware of the animals.
"I think the most likely origin is that these cats are released pets, which usually die within a winter, but some survive. There's enough cover out there in the wilds in the rural parts of Britain and still enough wildlife for a number of them to make a good life for themselves. But I woudn't imagine that the landscape would support too many of them - much to our relief."
But amid all the sightings, the past decade seems to have seen a new development. Mr. Rickard said: "There are parts of the Scottish Highlands where there does seem to be a new breed of wild cat and specimens have been caught."
He added: "There is the possibilty that smaller cats like the Asian swamp cat - which is like a miniature leopard - have escaped and interbred with both feral cats and wild cats. They seem to have taken over from foxes in the damage that they do."
© The Edinburgh Evening News, April 7 th 1997
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