Report from Chris Smith
Allan Paul believes the tracks which were photographed belong to a Domestic Cat
The person described as a member of Scottish Big Cats actually left the group in November 2001.
WITH its piercing green eyes, the mysterious black creature peered through the undergrowth.
As it glided into the woods, it left in its wake a trail of paw-prints in freshly-fallen snow.
Until yesterday, Kemnay businessman Steven Clark had never believed in the existence of big cats.
But after a close encounter with the strange Beast of Bennachie and following its prints, he has changed his mind.
"It was a beautiful creature, sleek and completely black," said Mr Clark, 37, who was driving a firm's van near the Bennachie Centre when he saw the animal.
He was approaching Woodend of Braco crossroads on the side road around 7.45am, and slowing down on the snowy road when he spotted the massive cat less than 50 yards ahead.
"As I approached the junction, another car was going along the Chapel of Garioch road. This big black cat appeared, with its head turned it seemed to watching that car.
"It just walked along the side of the road and round the corner opposite me. I could see every detail clearly. It seemed to glide along, lithe-like rather than walking, then just seemed to spring into the undergrowth without effort."
Fascinated, he got out of his van to look at the animal's 3 in paw-prints.
Using his tape measure, the joinery boss measured 14 in between each print, and 42 in from the front to rear paw marks in the snow.
"It was about the size of an Alsatian, but shorter and sleek with a lovely shiny coat and a small head. It had a very long tail, about 3 ft long and it only turned up at the end. My first thought was that it was a panther. As I looked around, I realised it was lying in a hollow of ground among the trees looking at me. It had bright green eyes. I was taken aback seeing it peering through the undergrowth at me, and I must admit I was quite frightened. It was close. I could feel it staring at me, and the hairs on my neck rising."
Mr Clark's experience was the latest in a series of big cat sightings around the landmark hill near Inverurie over the past six years.
Last night, experts who are collating sightings of mystery big cats throughout the country were intrigued by the latest incident.
They revealed similar animals had been spotted last month as far afield as Torphins and Banchory, Stonehaven and Insch.
The paw-prints were said to be inconclusive in proving on their own whether the Bennachie animal was a puma or panther, or a cross between a wild cat and domestic animal.
Mark Fraser from the Scottish Big Cats monitoring group said the animals were unlikely to attack unless they felt directly threatened.
However, last month an Insch woman sustained a leg wound after disturbing an animal - a "sleek black beastie" - in her farm outbuildings.
Since then, said Mr Fraser, several sightings of big black cats have come in from across Aberdeenshire.
The half-dozen descriptions have all been of panther-like animals about 4ft long, and with long tails arched at the end.
The Beast of Bennachie sightings started in 1995, with several sightings of big cats - both black and yellow in colour - reported in the Oyne area and close to yesterday's location.
Subsequent discoveries of dismembered sheep in woodland near Pitcaple at the other side of the hill added to the mystery, with one farming couple near Chapel of Garioch reporting a big black car prowling near sheep in 1996.
Recent reported sightings have also come from the Glens of Foudland area.
A North-east MSP is now calling on the Government to collate its own information on recurrent big cat sightings, and establish the truth behind rumours of the release of illegally-held animals into the countryside.
North East MSP Richard Lochhead has called for further evidence to be gathered by the Government on big cat sightings after being told by Rural Development Minister Ross Finnie that his department had no data on such incidents.
In a letter the minister said no investigations into sightings had taken place in the last seven years, though he acknowledged that such big cats might be descended from animals that had been released into the wild.
Mr Lochhead said: "Given the number of reports of big cats all over Scotland and over a period of years, I find it strange that the Government has made no effort to collate the figures. Grampian Police appear to be the only people who have made any moves to find out more. They at least have an inquiry team to deal with reports as well as having undertaken a study several years ago. I have contacted them to find out what they have to say on the issue.
"The Government seems wholly disinterested in an issue that has been going on for years, and which we are no closer to knowing the truth about."
22 nd February 2002
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