Report from Chris Smith
At the beginning of last month, Alastair Skinner drove home to Inverness across the Scottish Highlands from his job as fishery officer in Ullapool. Soon after midnight, at Rogie Falls in Wester Ross, his headlights picked out a creature walking in the road ahead. As he got closer, it stopped, turned round and stared at him, not more than five 5 feet away. "I was eyeballing it for several seconds," said Mr Skinner, a former member of an anti-tank platoon with the Queen's Own Highlanders. "I am convinced it was a panther. It stood about three feet off the deck, was completely black and had a long tail." The animal eventually wandered off into some nearby trees.
There's good evidence for a population of ABCs (alien big cats) in the Highlands: John Cathcart, a former Inverness policeman, has catalogued about 80 Highland sightings in the last two decades.
Another ex-military man had an extremely close large cat encounter last year in South Yorkshire. On June 16, Raymond Cibor, 45, was driving a fork-lift truck down a country lane at Seven Yards Farm, Armthorpe, near Doncaster, when a mud-spattered tiger leapt from the undergrowth, reared up, snarled and lashed out with its claws at the vehicle. He reversed as the feline roared and attacked the truck again before disappearing into a nearby copse. "I could see its mouth open wide and its claws looked like razors," said the ex-soldier. "It was definitely a tiger, there is no doubt in my mind. It was about 6ft in length and 3ft high. It was orange and yellow with black stripes."
After studying big cat pictures on his computer, he concluded that it was a Bengal tiger. The police found "fairly large paw prints", later identified by an expert as a dog's. There were no travelling circuses booked in the area and no nearby theme parks with any tigers (present or missing), so a police helicopter was scrambled to comb the area and an armed response unit put on alert. As almost always with ABC searches, nothing was found.
"We do not believe this was a hoax," said a police spokesman, "because the man was genuinely terrified." A week later, a 13-year-old boy was left in tears after apparently coming face to a face with a tiger while cycling home in Auckley, only three miles from Seven Yards Farm.
Throughout the Nineties I compiled annual nation-wide surveys of ABC sightings from local press reports sent in to Fortean Times. In 1998 I summarised almost 350 clippings reporting on sightings in 32 English counties, while the 1999 figures were about 170 clippings and 27 counties. Either the beasts have become more retiring or the interest of local journalists has waned. Having said that, ABCs were quite active in Devon and Yorkshire, across Scotland, and in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. Northern Ireland returned to the ABCfold, with sightings in Co Tyrone and around Belfast. And in Telford, Shropshire, as I mentioned in my Boxing Day column, closed circuit television at a brickworks recorded convincing footage of a puma. One morning in July, Gordon and Beck Thomas, who keep sheep and ponies at Bryn Awel, Newport, north Pembrokeshire, saw a creature in a field in front of their farmhouse. The couple, who have lived at Bryn Awel for 47 years, observed it for several minutes. "At first I thought it was a small donkey," said Mr Thomas, 71, "but then I looked through binoculars and there was no doubt in my mind that it was a lion. It was a ginger colour with a 4ft tail. It walked stealthily through gorse up towards common land on Carningli Mountain." Carningli means "Mount of Angels", because St Brynach is said to have spoken to angels here in the fifth century. After the lion was seen, however, locals were thinking of renaming it Carnllewod, "Mount of Lions".
Paul Sieveking is editor of Fortean Times
The Sunday Telegraph, 21 st January 2000
|Return to index||Return to Scottish Big Cats||Return to the Highlands||Return to 1999|