Report from Chris Smith
THE former policeman who records big cat sightings in Scotland said yesterday that a puma-type animal heard creaming by Ardrossan residents could now be dozens of miles away.
Police officers reported they may have seen a 3ft tall animal with a dark coat, piercing yellow eyes, and a long black tail on waste ground near the railway line in Ardrossan, after they responded to calls from residents.
Ardrossan police station reported yesterday, however, that they had received no more sightings and were not pursuing the matter.
George Redpath, 58, a former officer in Fife and a member of the Scottish Big Cats team, said: "While there have been no more reports about the animal seen at Ardrossan that is not unusual. From the screeching sounds, it may have been a female puma looking for a mate. It is the only cat which screams.
"The territory may be as much as 20 square miles, so if the animal was disturbed it could have moved away very quickly to lie up."
Officers were called out to investigate at 3.30am on Monday, but when they approached the animal, which they later described as a puma-like cat, it ran off into undergrowth. Their torchlight search proved fruitless. Strathclyde Police asked the public to be vigilant and report any sightings of the animal, which, they said, should not be approached.
The incident is the latest in 120 alleged sightings of big cats roaming loose in Scotland this year, ranging from the Highlands to Galloway, according to Scottish Big Cats, a voluntary body that records sightings of the animals.
Last year, there were a total of 118 sightings of big cats in Scotland and around 800 throughout the UK.
Twenty years ago, there were only eight reported sightings, suggesting the population of big cats in Scotland has grown considerably since then - or else hoax reporting is on the rise, following sightings such as the Beast of Bodmin in Cornwall.
Mr Redpath, who began recording big cat sightings in 1992 when he was a serving police officer in Cupar, said there are puma, lynx and possibly black panther at large in the countryside near his home at Balmullo in north Fife.
"We have had many sightings. There have been sheep kills, but mainly we think these are down to stray dogs. We believe that big cats feed on rabbits and roe deer, which are plentiful around Scotland, including in Ayrshire. There is no necessity for them to take larger prey like sheep or cattle," he said.
Earlier, Phil Crosby, of the Scottish Big Cats team, said it was interesting the police had reported the Ardrossan sighting, as their line in the past had always been that the cats did not exist.
There had been a number of sightings in Ayrshire, which had generally been taken to be of a black leopard or puma.
He said there was no doubt there were communities of big cats breeding in the wild in Scotland.
The wild cat theorists believe that since the Dangerous Wild Animals Act was passed - requiring owners of all dangerous animals to hold a licence - 27 years ago many pet-owners who did not want to put their animals down released them into the wild to fend for themselves.
The Herald, 26 th December 2002
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