Sighting by Phil Crosby
Hope you can help me, and hope I am not wasting your time.
I believe I may have seen a big cat of some kind this morning. I live in a cottage around 12 miles outside Aberdeen, and the land behind me is a mixture of farmland and a small nature reserve 'the red moss'. I walk my dog along a track through this at least twice a day, and often see wildlife of many kinds. there is a small population of roe deer on the moss, as well as a huge population of rabbits, which sustain a moderate population of foxes - all of which I see regularly. there are also badger in the area, although I have only seen them on two occasions. There is a good population of various birds, including pheasant and grouse, and the moss has a substantial transient population of wildfowl.
This morning around 7:30 I took my dog along the track when around 100 m ahead of me a large animal crossed the track - it was dark in colour and low to the ground, with a longish tail. This was at approx. map reference xxx xxx , where the track cuts between two small areas of woodland, adjacent to the red moss. I continued to the point where the animal had crossed, and could see no sign of an animal, although my dog went wild and wanted to chase off into the woods - not sure if this was the animal or just rabbit smell! I went back slightly and went up a track to the side, skirting the woods in the general direction the animal had gone. Around 200 metres up, in a field of stubble I saw movement and observed what appeared the same animal again move through the stubble and take up position on a small rocky outcrop which breaks up the field: it appeared to be watching the land around it (I have often watched hare and deer in this field so it may have been looking for prey) - I was maybe 150 m away at this point. I tethered my dog to a five bar gate and approached slowly to around 60 - 70 m from the animal, which had clearly noticed me by this time, because it stood and moved off into the rocks & undergrowth on the outcrop . It appeared to be a cat, around 2.5 feet high and dark in colour - I would say black but when it turned and disappeared it seemed lighter from behind. The ears were short and round. It was certainly not a fox, nor do I believe it was a dog: hard to say exactly how large (I didn't think it would want to be measured) but several times the size of a domestic cat. Also, I lived in Zimbabwe for three years and oftenAberdeenshire ved leopard and lion in the wild and this definitely moved and sat in a feline manner.
I think this may have been a cat of some kind - would appreciate your views/comments. Very happy to show the location to yourself or a colleague if it helps, and will be taking my camera next time I walk the dog, just in case.
I'll give the usual, probably unnecessary, warning about scale - there was a recent sighting of a 'cougar' near Aberdeen by a driver. Somebody with binoculars who spotted to observe it said it was a wildcat. However, the fact that you've seen cats in Africa does suggest that you are a reliable witness. The colour always poses me problems as cats are often described as 'black pumas'. One of the recurring themes on the non-nativecats list is whether black pumas actually exist. I haven't seen any photos but I don't see any reason why black pumas shouldn't exist. However, I tend to assume that any large black cat is probably a leopard. There have been a lot of sightings in Aberdeenshire and it does sound as if your sighting is the latest of one of our elusive non-native cats.
Accept the warning about scale - clearly hard to be exact on these
things, but would say my impression of scale accurate within +- 20%.
Couldn't say it was black - it was dark but dampish morning so could
have been just wet & hence darker. Could have been a melanistic leopard,
could have been a darkish puma, I could have misidentified (don't think
so, but have to recognise the potential).
PS. My belief based on what I saw and what I know of cats from my time in Africa, this was smaller end of scale for a leopard in terms of size, and dark in colour. The ears seemed roundish but not close enough to see in detail, nor to see if there were any tufts of any kind. Nor to see if there was a pattern to the skin, beyond being dark.
I spent some time today reading the website and looking at previous sightings, and two things jump out:
1. there seems to be a higher proportion of melanistic cats spotted than exist in the wild in areas where the species are normally found (possibly because people have had exotics as pets which have then been released)
2. whilst there seem to be some spurious sightings out there, there are clearly many normal well balanced individuals who have seen something out of the ordinary - not at all the lunatic fringe which some elements of the media portray!
Any thoughts on what I saw welcome - also any questions.
14 th October 2001
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