Report from Leo Martin
Pumas and lynx prowling through the countryside are about as likely as the Loch Ness monster, an expert told Scottish police forces yesterday.
Dr Hans Kruuk, an ecology consultant and authority on large cat species, said there is simply no evidence to support the existence of any of these creatures on the loose - despite an almost constant stream of reported sightings.
His remarks met with a cool response, particularly from the Fife Constabulary where officers continue to deal with claims that a large black cat is living off livestock in the area, the so-called Big Cat of Cupar. Officers are convinced the animal really does exist.
Dr Kruuk, who co-founded the Serengeti Research Institute in Tanzania and studied the large cats there for several years, was speaking at the fourth Scottish Police Wildlife Liaison Officers' Conference at the Scottish Police College in Tulliallan.
"It is like Nessie. You shouldn't dismiss it altogether but I am afraid there simply is not sufficient evidence to support any of these claims," he said.
"I have worked at night and it is very easy to overestimate the size of animals. The Scottish wildcat itself in bad light can be thought to be much bigger than it actually is."
Dr Kruuk, formally with the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, has been called out by police and landowners to investigate around ten reported sightings in the north-east of Scotland.
"I am pleased that the police forces take this matter seriously because these animals, if they are in Scotland, would originally have been captive and will be less frightened of people. A large cat on the prowl can be very dangerous."
Dr Kruuk does not doubt people genuinely believe they have seen a large cat but thinks there is also a great deal of "wishful thinking" on the part of those who want to believe there is more danger in our environment.
The only proven case of a large cat let loose in Scotland was in the late 1970s when several sightings and sheep carcases prompted one Speyside farmer to put down a baited cage trap which eventually caught a puma. Its origins were never traced but it was widely believed to been abandoned in the Highlands following the introduction of the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act which made it illegal to keep big cats as pets.
Constable Ronnie Morris, wildlife liaison officer with Fife Constabulary, believes Dr Kruuk is mistaken and that conclusive proof of the existence of the Big Cat of Cupar will be found.
"I do not need convincing that we have a cat similar to a puma or leopard in the countryside," he said.
Scotsman: 26 th February 1998
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