Report from Reuel Chisholm
THIS is the first photograph of a big cat roaming the hills of Scotland.
The animal was captured on film by hillwalker Raymond Dougherty on the Invercauld Estate, near Braemar.
Raymond, 49, a nursing home owner, from Dunblane, yesterday described the stunning sighting.
He said: "I was climbing the Munros on the Invercauld Estate when I stopped to get something out of my rucksack.
"I looked up and saw a black object moving through the heather. It kept moving out of sight, one minute I could see it, then I couldn't see it, then I could.
"I thought it was a big Labrador and I looked round for the owners.
"But then I realised it wasn't a dog and shouted to my friend to look."
When the animal heard Raymond's voice, it stopped and then ran up the hill.
Raymond, who was accompanied by pal Steve Mason, said: "It was definitely a wild animal.
"I grabbed the camera out of my bag - I knew it wouldn't be a great picture but at least it would prove I actually saw the big cat.
"You could tell by the length and way it ran that it wasn't a dog. It was amazing. It went like a bat out of hell.
"It ran with the fluid, flowing motion of a cat and it must have been at least 5ft long, with a tail as long as its body. It was quite squat and muscular, with straight pointed ears. It looked like a puma.
"I've no doubt it was a big cat. It certainly wasn't a deer."
The Invercauld Estate has received several reports of a strange black creature roaming the hills.
Estate factor Simon Blackett said: "I've heard reports about a mysterious creature over the past few weeks and the last reported sighting was a fortnight ago.
"The animal has appeared fairly recently but it seems to have disappeared again."
Mr Blackett said the animal has caused no problems but staff are taking no chances. He said: "It is potentially very dangerous. It is elusive and all the sightings have been in the mountains. Fortunately, it hasn't ventured into the town."
Big cat fever exploded in 1983 with the first sightings of the Beast of Bodmin Moor and a trail of more than 80 sheep carcasses allegedly left by the Beast of Exmoor. They were dismissed as myths but more sightings have sparked new fears. Some big cats may have been kept as pets and released into the wild after a crackdown on owning wild animals.
Reuel Chisholm, of the Scottish Big Cats Society, studied the photographs. He said: "It is difficult to identify it or gauge its bulk.
"With its pointed ears, it does seem cat like and, going by the witnesses' description of an all-black animal with a long tail, it is most likely to be a black leopard - actually a very dark brown type of panther with black spots. It is hard to tell much from a photograph because movement is important in identification.
"It's too thick set to be a fox.
"Sightings are not rare as people have reported seeing a big black cat in Strathdon and another in Ballater. Whether it's the same animal is impossible to tell but I'll investigate."
Another society member, said: "We have had 67 reports of big cats in Scotland this year. It is very rare to get a photo.
"It could either be a black leopard or a kellas, which is a wildcat about the size of a large dog."
In January 2002, "a sleek black beastie" was disturbed in its lair in the Glens of Foudland, near Insch, Aberdeenshire. It bit a woman on the thigh before fleeing.
In January 2001, a woman walking her dog spotted a creature the size of a medium-weight dog in the hills near Braemar and a farmer saw a similar beast in 1997 on the Invercauld estate.
Sunday Mail, 15 th June 2003
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