Report from Leo Martin
Retired Highland detective John Cathcart tells Callum McLeod of his evidence that Alien Big Cats are alive and well and roaming in woods near you.
Years after leaving the Northern Constabulary, former Detective Sergeant John Cathcart is still collecting evidence. Since the late 70's Inverness man John has amassed a collection of witness statements, sketches, photographs and video clips to show that killers stalk the Highland Glens. But John is not pursuing some unsolved murder. Instead he believes the culprits he is trying to track down have four legs, a tail, long claws and very sharp teeth.
Sightings of large cat like creatures have been reported throughout Britain, from the Highlands to the Cornish Moors where sightings of the so-called 'Beast of Bodmin' prompted a £8,200 official government enquiry.
The ABC or Alien Big Cat, sightings have proved to be almost as controversial as reports of UFO's, but John is certain that such animals are living wild in Britain.
"I'm quite convinced there are a lot of cranks, but by the same token I'm convinced that a lot of these reports are genuine," he said.
A former detective turned freelance precognition agent, collecting statements for trials ranging from murder down to, John knows a lot about gathering evidence, and one of the items he has in his collection is a plaster cast of a paw mark measuring a mighty 12.5 cm by 10.cm. The cast was taken in October 1983 after a deer stalker spotted a large animal on the banks of Loch Mullerdoch in Ross-shire. Experts have told John that the footprints belong to a large dog, but John is convinced that the prints are feline.
"I've been told the prints belong to a dog because you can see the claw marks, but there are no dogs in the middle of a deer forest," John insists. "If they're were they would be known about. Cats walk with their claws retracted, but my argument is that it was on soft peaty ground by the side of a loch, it would extend its claws to get a purchase."
One big cat has already been captured in the Highlands. An elderly female puma was caught by farmer Ted Noble near Cannich in 1979 and was taken to Kincraig Wildlife Park where she was named Felicity. After the animals death she was stuffed and exhibited at Inverness Museum Art Gallery. It was the capture of Felicity that sparked John's interest in big cat sightings. At that time the forces poaching liaison officer, John was asked by the Chief Constable to investigate reports of big cats and the potential threat to livestock.
A prisoner serving a sentence at Winchester Prison, David Carter, claimed he had released a pair of pumas near Cannich and Felicity was one of these. John agrees this is possible, but has his doubts.
"Everything he said he could have got from the press, but it was obviously something along these lines that led to the animals running free," he suggested.
The release of big cats into the wild is, John believes, is a direct result of the 1976 Dangerous Animals Act which placed severe restrictions on the private ownership of wild animals, although he has had reports dating far back as 1947 and even 1925.
"Pumas can be raised to quite a high level of domesticity," said John. "The sightings of the past ten years were of initially of brown animals, but than the reports are black, black, black. You can get melanistic pumas, ones that are black in colour instead of brown. If you were the type of person to have a puma, imagine the prestige you could get from having one that is jet black."
But John is also convinced that all sightings cannot be explained simply by free melanistic pumas, which are quite rare in the wild. He is sure that some of the sightings must be of panthers, melanistic leopards.
He insists that too many credible witnesses have seen big cats for the reports to be dismissed. John can name ten Highland policemen who can who have reported black cat sightings and his own sons claim to have seen a large cat near Ness Castle on the outskirts of Inverness.
Other beasts have been spotted by dear stalkers and farmers, people well acquainted with Scottish wildlife. John recalls: "A higher scientific officer from the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology in Banchory was collecting seeds above Ted Nobles house at Cannich and he went through a clearing where he saw an animal he maintained was the size of an Alsation dog. The colour - jet black on a beautiful sunny day. Here was a higher scientific officer, maybe not an animal expert, but certainly a very credible witness, seeing the animal."
Another person high on John's list of credible witnesses is a South African naturalist who was reported as seeing a big cat at Farr in January 1994 and exclaimed: "My god. I never thought I would see a panther in Scotland!"
A dog breeder who sighted big cats in Culloden and North Kessock estimated the animals weighed not less than 80 lbs. John contends this would rule out the Kellas cat, a wild cat/feral cat cross, which has been claimed by some authorities as the real explanation for the Scottish big cat sightings.
"A big Kellas cat would weigh maybe 25 lb's tops," John insists. "A Kellas cat is a skinny thing. A wildcats the same; there's no great bulk."
Other evidence supports John 's claims comes from South African Zoologist Dr. Hans Kruuk of the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology who has examined a number of sheep carcasses and found wounds which he claims are similar to wild lion kills in Africa. Typical indications of a cat, rather than a dog attack, are a fleece that has been stripped intact from the skin, claw marks and even strangulation, which is caused when the cats bite their victims on the throat.
"My personal opinion is that a sighting no longer has the same kind of weight," said John. "I've got so many now and one eye-witness account is the same as another. Its open to attack and until we get something tangible - footprints, hair, better still a carcass - we are going to be no further forward."
He believes that there are perhaps ten clusters of big cats in Britain, with the Dornoch/Embo and Drumnadrochit/Cannich areas being particular hot spots.
If he's right in his belief that the sightings result in being released when the 1976 Act came into effect, John feels that the sightings must now be of second or even third generation animals, so he is surprised that no corpses have been discovered.
"The average life in the best possible conditions with mild weather and not too much harassment would probably be around a dozen years. There's no way the ones being seen now are the same ones that were reported from the 70's.
In almost every case the sightings have been close to very dense forestry plantation which is impenetrable. These animals will no doubt Have dens or lairs which could be in caves or undergrowth and in all probability they crawl off into these places to die. Its only when they start thinning some of these plantations that they might start coming across some remains"
"Prey would obviously include dear and smaller birds and rodents. Sheep and other domestic animals may be at risk, but not humans themselves."
"Pumas can leap 13 feet straight up. They're very, very powerful, but they're cowards. They're not at all anti-human, but they are very curious about humans."
And according to John, not only have big cats established themselves in the Highlands, they have started breeding.
"One sighting, which again I was able to follow up, was made by two brothers and their three sons who had been out shooting and they had seen a 'lioness' and two/three cubs. The police came with an armed posse and found nothing, except an area of flattened grass."
"You have the potential for breeding right there,. One male out of that three and you have got a breeding population."
If that is the case, the day might still come when the big cat is regarded as normal a part of the British countryside as other imported animals like the rabbit or the Sika Dear.
1 st December 1995
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