|Exmoor was named after "The Exmoor Beast."
According to legend, the "beast" was a black cat spotted in Devon and Exmoor, England in 1963.
Farmers claimed it was killing sheep, and the government sent in Royal Marine Commandos to
eradicate the beast. None were caught or killed and the mythical cat became known as the "Exmoor Beast."
One of the Marines called it "a black cat of the puma variety," but Ben Willis said there is no variety of puma. "I suspect the cat to be a leopard," he said. "Or it may have been a wolf or something and not a cat at all."
British author Di Francis theorized the cat was indigenous since undiscovered felines have inhabited the British Isles since Roman times. Scientists and zoologists were critical of her ideas, but in 1991, she acquired the carcass of an exceptionally large black feline killed near the Scottish Highland’s village of Kellas. She’d hoped it was a cub of one of the mysterious big cats, but was disappointed to learn it was an adult. Nonetheless, it was an extremely unusual cat with huge canine teeth, a jet-black coat with silvery guard hairs, and a whip-like kinked tail.
Many similar animals were spotted in the Highlands and were referred to as Kellas Cats.
Dr. Andrew Kitchener, of the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh conducted examinations on eight of the so-called Kellas Cats and based on evidence, he concluded that seven of the specimens were introgressive hybrids between the European Wildcat (Felis silvestris) and the common domestic cat.
The final specimen proved to be a pure melanistic wildcat -- the first ever to be documented. Dr.Kitchener's findings remain controversial.
Ben sent photographs of two pelts of his ferals who didn't survive to Kitchener, and the doctor agreed that Ben's cats appeared similar to Felis silvestris.
Ben sought the advice of other experts including Dr. Lee Corbridge, a exotic feline veterinarian in Sebring Florida, Mr. John Murray, the former head taxidermist at the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh who had prepared specimens of the Kellas Cats, and Dr. Christina Smith in Paris.
Smith and Murray examined images of Panther and the other two, and the consensus was that the cats share recent ancestry with some species of wild feline.
"Whether this species is the European wildcat is questionable," Ben said.
"The most probable conclusion is that these animals are introgressive hybrids of the bobcat."
According to zoologists, bobcat attacks are almost unheard of.
The big cats, that were here in Columbus's day, are known only to "attack" when rabid, or if humans try to interrupt a fight for food.
"They won't injure or kill anything it can't pick up and carry," Ben said. "A person would be too big -- horses and cattle too. A solitary cat, unlike a pack of wolves or dogs, will go for things like rabbits, fawn and other little animals." Humans just aren’t on their menu since basically they won’t get in a food fight they can’t win. "They can't take a chance on getting wounded," Ben said. Simply put, it's not as if they can go to a hospital for treatment.
That theory, Ben and other experts believe, dispels rumors that healthy bobcats could be responsible for attacking people, killing cattle or other large farm animals.
And while some wild animals can be tamed, according to Cat Tales Zoological Training Center and many other wildlife agencies, it's an all-round bad idea to keep them as pets.
Many people who purchase wild animals as babies, get in over their heads then release the animals into the wild after they become adults. Since humans have raised them, they don't have the training their natural mothers give them to survive. These animals "usually starve to death or seek out humans for help and are mistaken for wild animals attacking the public and are then shot to death." Most, they said, are abused, abandoned, starving, lost, or simply not wanted after the novelty has worn off.
Regarding feral cats, Ben said, "These should not be confused with ordinary homeless or stray cats.
"Feral cats would only be those born in the same such wild environment as other wild animals. Even though they may venture close to human settlements, they remain equally as wild as raccoons or opossums that exhibit similar behavior. Unless captured very young, they are completely untamable, but less aggressive than the bobcat."
For this reason he suggests spaying and neutering for feral cats.