Thanks to Leo Martin and Chris Smith for their invaluable help with compiling the newspaper cuttings.
The official comments and reaction to the Beast of Bodmin Moor has already been covered in The Ubiquitous Beast.
One problem encountered by serious researchers are hoaxes. Several people have fabricated evidence of big cats in the UK. One such example is the Fowey skull. A summary of the hoax is found in the following report from the BBC, with detailed news reports following.
In 1995, a Ministry of Agriculture inquiry found no evidence to support the existence of a big cat - the Beast of Bodmin Moor - that was said to be savaging sheep in Cornwall.
Less than a week later, the skull of a big cat was discovered in the River Fowey near St Cleer in Cornwall. The Natural History Museum's Zoology Department concluded it was part of a leopard-skin rug.
BBC News , 27 th September 1998
I am glad to see that the Beast of Bodmin is alive and well and attracting attention. Various sightings over the past few weeks confirm that a big black cat is at large in Cornwall: on the basis of a video film taken by Rosemary Rhodes, who farms on Bodmin Moor, an expert from London Zoo has identified it as a Southeast Asian leopard.
There is something agreeably mysterious about the survival) of major predators in an island as densely populated as ours. Where do they come from? Why is it that they are seen so rarely? And why has no corpse or skeleton ever been found?
Your correspondent has been fancying feral felines on and off ever since a hefty carnivore began to be seen about the thickly wooded country south of Godalming in the autumn of 1964. Early reports excited scepticism and derision, but first-hand accounts built up so fast that the creature soon became known as the Surrey puma, and the police opened a Puma Book in which incidents were recorded. For months the prize exhibit in Godalming police station was the plaster cast of a pug-mark more than five inches across. Some witnesses were clearly over excited - such as the woman who reported 'exceptionally loud purring' outside her window - but others were down-to-earth. Farmers had sheep killed, bullocks and heifers were savaged, and gamekeepers found roe deer with their necks broken.
So far as I can discover, no satisfactory account has ever been given of where the puma came from, or of what happened to ft. Presumably it escaped from, or was deliberately let go by, some private owner, who then kept ' quiet; and presumably in the end it died a natural death. Reports of it continued for more than three years before petering out.
Yet, in its brief notoriety, the Surrey puma set the pattern for all the big-cat activity that has followed: streams of eye-witness reports, much evidence in the way of tracks and kills, but never a body or a photograph clear enough for unequivocal identification.
During the Seventies the main theatre of activity shifted to Exmoor, where sightings and incidents built up steadily, coming to a peak early in 1983. That spring so many sheep were killed on Drewstone Farm, near South Molton, that the owner, Eric Ley, called in independent hunters, the police and finally a detachment of the Royal Marines in attempts to shoot the marauder. Rumour had it that the Marines despatched several wandering dogs, but no big cat was accounted for and, although the massacre of sheep diminished, killings and sightings have continued ever since.
Probably the greatest living expert on the subject is Nigel Brierly, a retired biologist who lives on the Soutern fringes of Exmoor and has spent years collecting evidence. His 80- page paperback, They Stalk by Night, published in 1989, gives the fullest account of the phenomenon to date. The subtitle of his booklet, The Big Cats of Exmoor and the Southwest, reflects his belief that the sheep-killers are not, as some people have claimed, large dogs. Everything about them is feline, from their round heads, small ears, green eyes and long tails to their method of killing which is to stalk and spring without any of the preliminary coursing practised by dogs.
Mr Brierly believes, further, that not merely several individual animals, but several different species, are at large. Multiple sightings report pumas both brown and black, and also lynxes, which are a different shape, and have distinctive tufts on their ears. A third possibility is that some of the animals are melanistic leopards.
Like most of the people involved in the hunt, Mr Brierly has no wish to kill the predators; but he does have a burning ambition to make an absolutely positive identification and to 'find out what the hell these things are'. To this end, he has grown extensive crops of catmint and refined extract from the plants into a concentrated oil, which he hopes will lure the elusive beasts of Exmoor. Attempts to trap one in a steel-mesh cage have so far proved fruitless, and he is now pinning his hopes on getting a good close-up photograph with cameras fired by pressure pads. In this he is being assisted by a police detective from London, and a colleague specialising in photography.
One persistent puzzle has been the failure of local hunts to pursue the animals. On several occasions, after sightings, foxhounds have been brought in and put on the line, but never with any success.
The answer may lie in the fact that hounds do not recognise big cats as prey but, on the contrary, have a natural fear of them. Many eye-witnesses have described how dogs bristle-up and bolt when they come across one of the felines, or even just its scent. Mr Brierly believes that the only way to bring one to book will be to import American hounds specially trained for puma-hunting: they, if they did their stuff, should be able to tree one of the British cats, and so solve at least part of the mystery.
Meanwhile, the focus of attention has switched to Cornwall, and in particular to Rosemary Rhodes, whose Ninestones Farm lies high on Bodmin Moor near Jamaica Inn. Although she took her video film only this month, she has been harassed by sheep-killing for almost three years, and in the summer of 1992 she rang Nigel Brierly for advice. His response was to send down John Lambert, a professional tracker who had been one of the Royal Marines deployed on Exmoor in 1983.
During the time that Lambert worked at Ninestones, he had several close encounters with cats, in Guding one with a lynx, which passed under the tree in which he was sitting, and another with a larger animal which followed him home one night. Unfortunately, he has since died in Bosnia, where he went as a member of a volunteer medical team.
Like Mr Brierly, Mrs Rhodes does not want the wild cats killed. But she does , want to establish what they are, and to demonstrate that she herself is not a 'hysterical, attention-seeking female'. She, too, has hopes of cornering one up a tree, and has acquired a bloodhound, which she proposes to train for cat-hunting.
Once regarded as a joke, the beasts of Bodmin and Exmoor are now causing serious concern. The sight of two pumas together on Exmoor, both wearing collars, strongly suggests that animal-rights activists have been making releases; and this, combined with the fact that the big cats already on the moor have bred cubs, threatens to produce a population of major carnivores larger than our fragile environment will stand. Roe deer and rabbits support a certain number, but if present trends continue, attacks on farm animals will rise to an intolerable level.
If the predators were all pumas, which rarely attack humans, people would be less worried; but leopards are more ferocious altogether. Small wonder that responsible fanciers are calling for an upgrade of the Dangerous Animals Act, which, in its present state, makes it far too easy to let a cat out of the bag. Copies of 'They Stalk by Night' are available, price pounds 3.60, from Nigel Brierly at The Old School, Newtown, Bishops Nympton, South Molton, North Devon EX36 3QR.
The Independent, 18 th December 1993
Not since Sherlock Holmes tracked down the Hound of the Baskervilles has there been the prospect of such a chase.
Ministry of Agriculture boffins, sans deerstalkers but occasionally armed with magnifying glasses, will track another monster which has been terrorising moorland animals for more than 10 years.
The purpose of the chase, announced yesterday, is to establish whether the cat-like Beast of Bodmin Moor really exists.
Until now, despite numerous sightings, the mauled carcasses of calves and lambs and photographic evidence, the Beast has been regarded by many as a hardy silly season story. But it became semi-official yesterday.
Angela Browning, parliamentary secretary at the ministry and MP for Tiverton, was stung into action. A team of advisers, led by Simon Baker, a wildlife consultant, would, she said, spend 26 staff days and pounds 8,200 examining the evidence, comparing tracks with casts taken from big cats in zoos.
Paul Tyler, MP for North Cornwall, welcomed the study. 'The so-called Beast may well be several wild pumas,' he said. 'The last thing we need is for farmers to take the law into their own hands: a posse of would-be big game hunters could be even more dangerous.'
The Independent, 13 th January 1995
Government wildlife experts have found no evidence of the so called "Beast of Bodmin" after a 6 month, £8000 probe.
They examined photos, footprints and livestock thought to have been attacked by the wild animal in Cornwall.
But they said most of the pictures and videos thought to have shown a big cat were actually domestic cats and the foot prints belonged to dogs or cats.
Farmers have rejected the official report which says the so called "BoB" does not exist. Farmer John Goodenough, 66, who has lost 10 ewes and three calves on Common Moor, said the probe was 'a farce'.
He has trebled his labour force to protect his stock, and said of the big cats: 'We are in one hell of a position now, because they are breeding fast.
ITV News , 19 th July 1995
An Investigation into the so-called 'Beast of Bodmin Moor' has failed to track down evidence to prove the big cat exists.
The Ministry of Agriculture inquiry says there's no danger to livestock in the Bodmin area of Cornwall.
It suggests that the reported sightings of the 'beast' - an amateur video film- are actually domestic cats.
However, many people still believe that the 'beast' exists
BBC Newsround, 19 th July 1995
The Ministry of Agriculture said yesterday that it could find no evidence to support the notion that big cats stalk Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, killing and eating livestock.
Angela Browning, a junior agriculture minister, told a press conference that a six-month investigation prompted by years of sightings of black pumas, panthers and leopards had found no evidence of big cat kills.
Furthermore, Ministry of Agriculture experts say the video footage and photographs which purport to show big cats on the Moor are actually showing ordinary domestic cats.
But those who claim to have seen the 'Beast of Bodmin' or found their farm animals dead and mutilated, were unconvinced by the ministry's findings. Mrs Browning, who wore a large cat-shaped brooch at the press conference, said only four livestock deaths occurred during the six months and none gave any hint of big cat involvement.
"This clearly indicates that there is not a serious threat to livestock in the area," she said. 'As a result the ministry will not be taking any further action following this investigation.'
But, she added, any future suspicious deaths of livestock notified to the ministry 'will be investigated in the normal way'.
Rosemary Rhodes, a landowner of Ninestones on Bolventor, has sold her sheep because she claims they were stalked by a black panther. 'Everybody in the country will think we have been suffering from some kind of mass hallucination,' she said. 'But one day, there is an outside chance somebody ' is going to get hurt.
'Every now and then I think I have imagined seeing the big cats but then I catch another glimpse and know I've been right all along.'
Her neighbours, Richard and John Goodenough, have farmed on Bodmin Moor for the last 30 years and lost 14 sheep to mystery killings. Richard, aged 42, said yesterday: 'I have seen it four times. There were two sightings of a black leopard and two of a black puma.'
North Cornwall Liberal Democrat MP Paul Tyler said: 'If the 'Sherlock Holmes' team from the ministry think they have dispelled the mystery, I think they have another thing coming. A lot of people 1 meet and whose word I trust say 'yes there is something there'.'
The investigation by two experts from ADAS, the ministry's advisory service, took 26 days and cost £ 8,200.
They attributed all the footprints they found to dogs and cats. Of the four sheep and lamb carcasses they examined on the moor, one was unmarked and unbruised and appeared to have died of starvation.
Another appeared to have suffered from severe foot-rot and been bitten by a large dog. Two dead ewes showed evidence of having been partially eaten by badgers and foxes, but there was no evidence that they had been killed by a large cat.
The Independent, 20 th July 1995
British scientists said the elusive creature blamed for killing live stock and terrorising hikers, nicknamed the 'Beast of Bodmin Moor', is probably just a cat. In a hunt that recalled 'Sherlock Homes' pursuit of the Hound of the Baskervilles, government wildlife experts spent six months studying carcasses and analysing paw-prints. But residents of Bodmin Moor, 250 miles Southwest of London, still believe in a Loch Ness-type monster beast and accuse the government of a cover-up.
USA Today, 20 th July 1995
The "Beast of Bodmin Moor," the elusive creature blamed for killing livestock and terrorising hikers, is probably just a pussy cat, scientists have deduced - denting a myth as exotic as the Loch Ness Monster. In a hunt that recalled Sherlock Homes pursuit of the 'Hound of the Baskervilles', government wildlife experts investigated a dozen reports of savage attacks on sheep and calves, and local claims that wild cats have frightened children.
The suspicious livestock deaths and big cat sightings have gone on for several years, leading to the belief that some sort of big wild cat was loose on the moor. Investigators Simon Baxter and Charles Wilson spent six months studying videotapes taken by residents, strange paw-prints and carcasses of the four farm animals killed during that period. The examination of the carcasses provided no evidence that big cats were the killers, and Baker said that the animals had probably been attacked by dogs or foxes.
Three plaster casts of paw-prints taken on Bodmin Moor turned out to be the marks of two cats and one dog. And photographs and video clips almost certainly showed small domestic cats, the investigators said at a news conference on Wednesday.
"We could find no evidence of the presence of a big cat on Bodmin Moor," Baker said. They did not, however, prove beyond doubt that there is not a big cat in the area. And belief in the beast was still strong on Bodmin Moor, a great lonely swath of boggy land about 250 miles South West of London.
Rosemary Rhodes, who has tried for more that four years to persuade others that wild cats prowl the moor, scoffed at the governments suggestion that the animals that she has video-taped were domestic cats.
"I am just picking myself up off the floor with laughing," she said. "I gave them footage of Twinkie, my cat, I zoomed in and I zoomed out, Twinkie looked nothing like the pumas I taped." Last year, Rhodes sold the last of her 50 sheep after four ewes were ripped to death.
Another moorlands resident Ellis Daw, told Independent Television News that the report was a government cover-up. "I have seen puma. My friends have seen puma, my neighbours have seen puma," said Daw. "We know they're here."
Investigator Baker said it would have been impossible to confuse the beast with a domestic cat. A puma or panther is up to nine feet long and weighs up to a 150 lbs, and a has a tail longer than its body. Neither big cat exists in the wild in Britain.
Baker and Wilson analysed videotapes and found "the measurements and body proportion show that it has the same dimensions as an adult domestic black cat".
Government investigators said they found none of the classic signs of big cat attacks such as claw marks on the hind quarters where the animal is initially pulled down. At Jamaica Inn - made famous by Daphne du Maurier's novel of the same name about romance, smuggling and murder - manager Tony Turner chortled when he heard of the government report. "They're looking in the wrong place at the wrong time. I should imagine its hard to run across a big cat out there" Turner said of the 10 square-mile wasteland. "I personally think its out there. But no one really knows, though, until they came face-to-face with the beast."
The Columbus Dispatch; USA, 21 st July 1995
A SKULL found in a river on Bodmin Moor is definitely that of a big cat London Zoo Declared yesterday.
After examining the seven inches long by four inches high skull, Douglas Richardson, the zoos assistant curator of mammals, said: "I believe this is the Beast of Bodmin, or one of them. There is more than one out there that's for sure."
He added: "It is definitely a big cat's skull. It is probably a leopard, possibly a puma. It still smells quite nasty, which indicates to me that it died this year, possibly in the last two months."
The zoo's resurrection of the fabled Beast of Bodmin comes less than two weeks after the Ministry of Agriculture proclaimed the creature to be nothing more dangerous than a domestic pussy cat. Rosemary Rhodes, one of the many farmers on Bodmin Moor who claim that a big cat has been preying on their sheep and cattle, said: 'This is the confirmation we have been waiting for. We never had any faith in the Ministry of Agriculture's Inquiry."
The skull was found by Barney Jones 14 on Monday of last week in a fast flowing stretch of the River Fowey near St Cleer, on the edge of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. He was out walking with his father, Keith, and two Older brothers at the time. The family live at Tremar Coombe, near Liskeard. Barney said that he thought at first the skull was a large stone.
Mr Richardson said he could not rule out the possibility that the skull had been planted as hoax, but thought it unlikely. "'I have talked to the boys, and they came, across as credible witnesses. If you wanted to leave something lime that where people would find it. I do not think you would choose a stream where it could be washed away. Anyway, it is not so easy to get hold of a leopard skull."
Mr Richardson said he thought the skull was most likely that of a melanistic leopard popularly called a black panther. He was convinced by the two front fangs. "The puma and the leopard are two of the most adaptable big cat species in the World. There is no weather our climate could throw at them which would faze them at all. They have no competitors and plenty of food in the form of deer and rabbits.
A spokesman for Angela Browning, the junior Agriculture Minister who commissioned the official inquiry into the beast, said: "It is an interesting find but raises a lot of questions. Where did the skull come from? Where is the rest of the skeleton?"
The Times, 2 nd August 1995
The remains of a big cat found in Cornwall, England by three brothers could help solve the mystery of the Beast of Bodmin Moor.
A London Zoo expert examining the skull said it "is definitely genuine." Livestock kills in Cornwall have shown "classic signs" of kills by a big cat.
The Saginaw News, Minnesota, 3 rd August 1995
At a cost of thousands of pounds, the government has investigated the many sightings of the Beast of Bodmin.
Their Verdict: The huge and vicious big cats that have plagued Cornish Farmers for 30 years do not exist.
There's no such thing. So stop being silly and stop complaining that your sheep keep having their guts ripped out. The Beast of Bodmin does not exist, because the Ministry of Agriculture said so last week.
This week we have this picture of Doug Richardson from the London Zoo, investigating the fanged skull of a big cat found in a river right on the edge of Bodmin Moor.
So there you have it. The government says there's nothing to worry about. Which is their way of saying "Be afraid, be very afraid."
Sunday Sport, 6 th August 1995
An animal skull found in a Cornish river two weeks ago did not belong to the "Beast of Bodmin". But may have come from a leopard-skin rug.
London Zoo announced yesterday that specialists at the Natural History Museum had identified the skull as being from a young male leopard. The animal died abroad, possibly in India a considerable time ago, and was most likely a hunting trophy.
Entomologists at the museum found the remains of an egg-case of a large tropical cockroach attached to dried brain membrane in the skull's cranial cavity. In a two page report, the museum suggested that the skull strongly resembled those "often recovered from old leopard skin rugs". It Concluded: "This particular leopard skull came to Cornwall only by human agency, and it is most unlikely that it had been in the river where it was recently discovered for any appreciable length of time".
Undeterred by the findings, Doug Richardson, assistant curator of mammals at London Zoo, who last week seemed convinced he had the skull of the Bodmin beast in his hands, said: "The exposing of this hoax does not alter my opinion concerning the presence of big cats in south-west England. The evidence I have examined over the years, coupled with first-hand evidence of some very credible witnesses, leaves me in no doubt about their existence. I am still very interested in assisting with a project that will put the matter to rest through the capture of one of these animals.
Mr Richardson conceded he had been misled into thinking the skull had come from an animal which had died recently by the softening effect of the water on tissue clinging to it. In its report, the museum said the skull "must have been in dry conditions for some considerable period" before it was placed in the river. The exposure of the hoax came as a severe blow to farmers on Bodmin Moor who are convinced big cats are killing their livestock.
The skull was found on July 24 by Barnaby Lanyon Jones, 14 in shallow water on the river Fowey, besides the Golitha Falls, a popular beauty spot a few miles from the village of St Cleer on the edge of Bodmin Moore. He was out with his two elder brothers, Sam, 19 and Toby, 16.
The boy's father , The Reverend Keith Lanyon Jones, the Chaplin of Rugby School, said "There is no doubt my lads genuinely found the skull in the river, but I was always very sceptical about its origins. I greatly annoyed the rest of the family by referring to it as the Piltdown Puss. How nice for a father to be proved right".
Barnaby was on a camping holiday with his friends and out of touch yesterday, but his brother Sam said: "I am absolutely gutted, not just because it was a hoax, but because Dad has been proved right after all. He will go on about it forever.
Last month the Ministry of Agriculture concluded there was no evidence of big cats on the moor. "We do not want to sound too smug" a spokesman said smugly. "But we always said finding the skull begged a lot of questions."
Paul Tyler, Liberal Democratic MP for North Cornwall, who has campaigned on behalf of farmers, said: "Those who have suffered unexplained livestock losses over several years are not amused."
The Times, 8 th August 1995
The skull of the 'Beast of Bodmin Moor' was revealed to be in fact yet another anti-climatic hoax perpetrated by persons unknown. The skull that had managed to fool London Zoo officials into announcing that it was proof positive of the mysterious 'Beast', turned out to be the remains of an adult, male leopard with inch long fangs. The Natural History Museum confirmed that it must be an imported hunting trophy that had been placed in the Cornish stream where it was discovered, by the hoaxers. Traces of a tropical cockroach egg-case were found inside the skull, indicating that the animal died outside the country, and marks showed parts of it had been deliberately removed, probably by a sharp knife.
Daily Telegraph, 8 th August 1995
London (AP) - Believers in the Beast of Bodmin held up a skull as proof that a big cat was killing livestock. A cockroach proved them wrong.
A team of entomologists and zoologists from the Natural History Museum in London studied the skull, which was found on the moor in Cornwall two weeks ago and released their findings on Monday:
St. Louis Post and Dispatch, 8 th August 1995
In fact, the Fowey skull was the third that had been found in the South West in recent years:
This in fact was the third skull found in Devon and Cornwall within a space of ten years. Each of them, although initially hailed as proof of pumas or leopards living in the area, was subsequently discredited. In January 1988? a big cat skull was discovered near Lustleigh on the eastern edge of Dartmoor. It was never subjected to serious scientific examination, but Dr Karl Shuker, who saw a photograph of it, was of the opinion that it may have been a leopard skull. He also expressed a view that marks on it were consistent with it having been attached to a rug at some time in the past. In 1993 the front portion of a large cat skull was found on Exmoor. It too eventually made its way to the Natural history Museum which confirmed it was from a mounted trophy.
Mystery Cats of Devon and Cornwall, 2001
A skull found lying near a Devon hedge could solve the mystery of the famous Beast of Exmoor, it was discovered last night.
For Britain's best known investigator into the riddle now believes the skull, which was found by two teenagers in January, is from the carcass of the creature itself.
Just days ago she recovered the savaged body of a lamb in Scotland and perfectly matched the marks in a wound with that of the three-inch wide teeth in the jaws of the skull.
Further tests on the skull have yet to be made both in Britain and in America, but last night Miss Di Francis, pictured above (with Thomas Christie's Kellas cat mount) who has set up a special Study centre in Scotland said: "It's now very likely that this is the skull of the so-called Beast."
The identity of the creature is still posing a problem with experts who have been examining the skull since it was found near Lustleigh. One claims it resembles a large leopard, while others suggest a type of lion or tiger.
But whichever family of big cat it is finally linked to, the finding confirms claims that the same creature and its offspring have been behind as string of mysterious sightings stretching from Devon to wales and Scotland over decades.
Miss Francis, who believes the Beast belongs to a family of cat never before recorded, delved into the mystery when she wrote a book on the subject several years ago.
Last night she spoke of the shooting near Widcombe last week of the leopard cat which was seen attacking a farmer's geese.
"I remember a wildlife park having to close down in the Okehampton area in the early 70s," she said. "A pair of porcupines were known to have escaped and a listed colony is now living in the area.
"I would not be surprised if this cat was part of a leopard cat colony, which over ht years had grown from a pair which also escaped from the same wildlife park. "There could be as many as 20 out there. Because they prefer wooded areas they would have kept themselves hidden from view.
"And with their diet consisting of rodents they would; not have tackled any sheep so farmers would not have noticed them.
Western Morning News, 22 nd April 1988
So there we have it. The official government report concluded that there are no big cats at large, and the skulls that were found were hoaxes.
The Bodmin and Exmoor dossiers are closed.
Or are they?
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