Report from Chris Smith
Suspicions of a big cat prowling Kiltarlity have escalated, following the death of three more sheep and several more sightings of a large panther-like creature.
In late May, Boblainy farmer Davie MacLean lost a ewe and two lambs overnight on grazing rented from Ivan Campbell at Hughton. They were good strong lambs and they were just massacred," he said.
The lambs" heads and skins were left on the ground. Their ribs, innards and carcasses had been eaten clean through to the backbones. the legs snappedoff at the joints, and the ewes ribs and been gnawed bare.
The style of killing was similar to that suffered by sheep belonging to keeper Neil Lyon at nearby Eskadale. and reported in the last issue of KN. It does not correspond with the way a fox, wild cat or dog would treat a carcass.
This is not a classic dog kill at all, said former Police Wildlife Liaison Officer John Cathcart from Inverness, who has made a study of big cat sightings in the Highlands. Dogs generally kill in a pack, and there are almost always bits of wool all over the field and other injured animals running about.
On the night in question, a neighbour heard the sound of a beast caterwauling from the field where the sheep died. John Cathcart confirms that pumas make a sound like a woman shrieking in fear.
An SSPCA inspector Alastair MacLeod who attributed the deaths to a dog when he saw Police photographs of the carcasses admitted: I honestly don't know. When you put it like that. it sounds strange. I'm not experienced enough to say one say or another. Northern Constabulary, however remain sceptical that a big cat caused the deaths. They say they, have identified a large dog in the locality which may be responsible and have the matter in hand. Said Cannich policeman Angus MacInnes
On finding the carcasses, Davie MacLean removed his remaining sheep back to Boblainy and is considering whether he can risk returning them to Hughton.
Cruives fish farm worker Caroline Hutchinson of Loaneckheim has seen a big cat twice recently, both times on the banks of the River Beauly. She described it as a large black panther. On the first occasion she watched it across the river : and on the second it crossed in front of her car near Groam Cottage and vanished into the undergrowth. As she got out of the car to follow it, she could smell its distinctive scent.
And Sam Ferguson from Belladrum saw a similar beast in February. His headlights caught the yellow eyes first. and then lit up a large black cat that seemed to take up the whole width of the single-track road by, the new houses in Belladrum.
The beast made off into the woods. I went back to Dad in a terrible state and woke him up, said Sam. Next day, they found the paw marks in the soft ground which were six inches in width.
Most of the sightings around the Kiltarlity area appear to have been of a large black cat which would suggest a panther. Pumas are brown and have low, muscular heavy bodies.
Back in May. a puma was seen in daylight only a few feet away, in the Ardersier area and the next day, a ewe was as found mutilated.
In April, it was reported that two years ago a local resident hit a large beast on the A833 Kiltarlity to Drumnadrochit road. Alan Sime. a vet then with Scottish Agricultural College, sent hairs from the bumper for analysis in Edinburgh. The tests found that they belonged to no known British mammalian species.
John Cathcart has determined to track down the hair sample and if necessary fund further research himself into their origins. Experts say that as many as 100 big cats may be roaming Britain.
Kiltarlity News, July 2000
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