Report from Leo Martin
For years tales of ferocious big cats prowling the countryside and slaughtering livestock by night have fascinated and terrified communities around the country. Blurred photographs and unexpected killings of sheep have inspired new legends such as the Beast of Bodmin or the mysterious animal said to have been seen in Cupar in Fife in recent years.
Despite intense interest and numerous investigations each time there is a new big cat sighting, nobody has managed to prove their existence beyond doubt. Nor can anyone disprove it. Yesterday a leading international authority on big cats poured cold water on their existence in Scotland, claiming no single piece of hard evidence had been produced.
But Dr. Hans. Kruuk's claims, based on a life time of big cat watching were challenged yesterday at a conference of police wildlife liaison officers. An officer whose rural Scottish patch has been the scene of numerous sightings of a mysterious black creature for more than a decade said: "I am convinced that it exists."
Constable Ronnie Morris of Fife police added: "All these reports have come from credible people and some have seen it at close range."
Dr. Kruuk believes he creature falls into the same category as the Loch Ness Monster - creations of mistaken identity and people's need to feel their environment is more dangerous than it actually is. The Deeside ecological consultant has been called in by police to investigate numerous 'big cat attacks in North-east Scotland. In each case he has found no proof to back the claims that a mystery beast was responsible.
Sighting's Dr. Kruuk has investigated include three in Deeside, two at Bennachie near Huntly, one near Keith in Banffshire and one at Craigellachie in Speyside. The ecologist, who was deputy director of Serengeti Research Institute in Africa before joining the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology in Banchory, says it is easy for people to make a mistake when identifying the animal.
He said: "The chances of people getting things wrong are enormous. From a lifetime of experience I know it is extremely easy to over estimate the size of animals." Despite his scepticism, Dr. Kruuk believes that the authorities should continue to treat big cat reports seriously. He points to a series of reported sightings in Speyside in the 70's which resulted in the eventual capture by a farmer of an extremely 'docile' and 'friendly' puma.
Dr. Kruuk said: "Any large cat in Scotland would have to originate from captivity, which would make it more of a risk because it would be less afraid of people. We should continue to take the big cat reports very seriously, even though at the moment we have no firm evidence of them. Personally, I keep hoping one will turn up."
Constable Ronnie Morris, Wildlife Liaison Officer for Fife police, is convinced there are big cats roaming Scotland. The so-called 'Beast of Cupar' was last year captured on a blurred video image by a women in the area.
The Kirkcaldy based officer said: "I am convinced it exists. All these reports come from people that I regard as credible."
Daily Mail: 26 th February 1998
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