Report from George Markie
The Scottish Big Cats Team would like to thank everyone who has got in touch, the public response has been amazing.
Note that we are convinced that Doris Moore was attacked by an animal, but not necessaerily that it was a cat. As to there being 150 big cats, who knows? This may be an quote from Quentin Rose
If you go down to the woods to day you're sure of a big surprise.
You could be eaten, mauled or generally scared witless by the legions of big cats roaming the Scottish countryside.
Any last lingering doubts about the existence of the creatures must have been dispelled last week when Doris Moore, of Craigieford, near Insch in Aberdeenshire, was attacked at the steading where her horse is stabled.
The beast was described as being the size of a labrador dog but with a long thin body and the motion of a cat.
It sank its teeth into a terrified Mrs Moore's leg and hip, ripping her trousers and leaving her with bruising and three deep puncture wounds in her thigh.
The big cat ran off when she struck at it repeatedly with a bunch of keys.
So the guessing game begins all over again. Was it a panther puma or some kind of jungle cat?
No-one will be more interested in the attack than George Markie and Mike Inglis, members of the Scottish Big Cats Team. They're dedicated to proving the existence of fearsome felines in Scotland - and then ensuring protected status for them.
With half a dozen colleagues, they claim to have assembled a wealth of evidence for the existence of big cats in Scotland.
As well as long-range photos and blurry videos, the team have casts of what may be paw prints, and photos of big cat kills.
George said, "We have photos of a recent deer kill near Cupar where the animal's bones have been stripped of flesh.
"It's a classic sign of a big cat kill. No other animal can do that the cat's tongues have evolved to strip bones completely."
Mike added, "We've always known they were definitely cult there I've spoken to so many witnesses and seen so many photos.
"The subject was discussed by police at a recent conference. They wouldn't waste their time discussing something that doesn't exist.
"I'm convinced the Government know there are big cats roaming around, but they're afraid of public scaremongering."
George and Mike think there are several different species on the loose and they have as many theories on exactly what the sightings are.
Mike said, "We think most sightings are of pumas and panthers, but I know there are a couple of lynx in Fife."
One popular theory is that after the Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976 imposed ownership fees, many exotic pets were turned loose by owners who'd rather not pay.
Admitted Mike said, "Some people recently admitted releasing big cats on to moorland in the '70s, knowing they can't be prosecuted now. But there are other ways cats could have come here.
"A lot of US pilots kept pumas as mascots during World War 2. It's possible they were turned loose if the pilot didn't return from a mission."
Mike a mature student, is based in Cupar. George, an audio-visual technician, lives in Dundee. By coincidence there have been a lot of sightings in Fife and Tayside.
"Many may be jungle cats," George said. "They were kept on ships to catch rats in the last century and there was a lot of trade between Dundee and Asia, where jungle cats are from. It's possible they jumped ship or were simply dumped here. It's even possible the Romans introduced jungle cats to Britain."
In the last 30 years a new species, the Kellas cat, has been identified in the Highlands. It's a black cat, about the size of a collie, the result of domestic and wild inter-breeding.
But Doris Moore maintains the animal that went for her was no Kellas cat. She said a number of these lived locally and weren't anywhere near as big.
The Big Cats Team's claims are strengthened by Felicity, a puma trapped near Inverness in 1980. She spent the rest of her days in the Highland Wildlife Park, but how she came to be in the wild is still a mystery.
Sightings of big cats are initially reported to the police. Then when the Big Cats Team hear about them they swing into action.
"We try to get to the scene as soon as possible to look for evidence - paw prints, hair samples, scratch marks, for example," explained Mike.
"The people who report sightings are often farmers, gamekeepers or policemen and know the difference between a dog and a puma."
The team know of one Fife farmer who pursued a cat he spotted. He got close enough to see it was a male, but was too scared to get his gun. A MAFF probe dismissed it as a dog.
"That's the sort of thing that puts people off reporting sightings. They're afraid of being ridiculed," George said.
"We reckon for every reported sighting five go unreported."
The team get around 70 in a year. They reckon there are as many as 150 big cats roaming wild in Scotland and the sightings have been going on for so long they must be breeding.
One alleged sighting was in a Fife woman's back garden. The animal had her Irish Setter in its jaws. When it was disturbed, the cat leapt a six-foot garden fence in one bound.
I have to confess none of the "evidence" I saw struck me as conclusive, but George and Mike are convinced.
The team was formed a year ago by Paris based Scots scientist Christina Smith, who is studying our wild cats and set up a website.
"The idea was to gather enough evidence to convince the Government there are big cats in the wild and to get them protected by law," said George.
"We're doing all we can to prove the cats are there. We've spent many long, cold nights camped out in woods, waiting. It can get pretty spooky."
George recently constructed an £800 camera which is triggered when its infra-red beam is broken, yet neither he nor Mike has seen a big cat.
George said, "That would be comparable to Scotland winning the World Cup and I don't mean it will never happen!"
Sunday Post: January 20 th 2002
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