Report from Chris Smith
A veterinary pathologist yesterday said a big cat was most probably to blame for a spate of unusual sheep killings in the north of Scotland.
A worried farmer from the Kiltarlity area, just outside Inverness, was so concerned about the rate at which his flock was being lost that he called in experts to examine the animals to try to establish what was killing them.
A vet who specialises in carrying out post-mortem examinations on agricultural animals said that the killings were unlikely to have been carried out by known native predators.
Alan Syme, of the Scottish Agricultural College's veterinary laboratories at their Inverness campus, said that the remains of the four ten-month-old blackface sheep that he studied indicated they were killed by some creature other than foxes or dogs.
Yesterday he said: "All that was left of two of the carcases were the skull and fleece. Another carcase only had the fleece and part of the backbone, while the fourth sheep was mostly intact, but its head, neck and most of its right front leg was missing.
"In three of the cases, practically all of the carcase and bones seem to have been carried away, which is not characteristic of the behaviour of either dogs or foxes.
"These usually attack sheep in the belly area and consume their prey on site.
"The farmer found one fleece was pulled inside out, which suggests that the animal's body had been ripped out backwards. This is a technique commonly used by exotic big animals of the cat family, but I cannot say exactly what killed these sheep from the findings of the post-mortem."
Mr Syme said that the animals' deaths were definitely caused by a predator, as the remains were checked for any other possible causes, such as disease.
He added: "I found puncture wounds on the remains, although I could not make any judgment as to what size of teeth or jaws caused these marks, because the wounds were multiple and there are no clear bite marks."
The veterinary pathologist said that although it was not unusual for farmers to lose one or two sheep, the man in question came to the SAC because a number of animals in the same field had been found dead over a short time.
He said: "Over a three-week period, around six or seven animals, including these four, have been lost, but some have been attributable to fox attacks and disease.
"I took a trip to the site where I found animal droppings, but they were probably from a wildcat. This was obviously not the species responsible for the killings.
"The farmer has recently undertaken night vigils to keep an eye on the field where the attacks occurred. If it was a big cat that carried them out, the increased attention to this field has probably scared it away".
There have been regular reportsof big cats being sighted in remoter parts of Scotland over the last 20 years.
On 29 October, 1981, a puma was caught in a specially-built trap at Kerrow Farm, Cannich, Inverness-shire, by farmer Ted Noble.
Because of her relative tameness, Ted dubbed her 'Felicity' and she spent the rest of her days until her death in February 1985 as a prized attraction at Edinburgh Zoo's Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig, near Aviemore.
John Cathcart, 63, a retired detective sergeant who has investigated reports of big cat sightings in the Highlands since the 1970s, said yesterday that he has seen evidence of similar attacks many times before.
He said: "The style of attack is not symptomatic of animals such as dogs, who would have left a terrible mess in and around the field. I have seen these most recent remains and they seem consistent with the killing methods used by big cats."
Mr Cathcart, of Drummond Circle, Inverness, added: "There has been a great deal of such activity in the Kiltarlity area over the years. In fact, I examined the bodies of sheep found by the same farmer about eight years ago, and they had been mutilated in the same manner."
Scotsman, February 20 th 1998
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