The ABC of British BIG CATS

Big Cat Encounters of the Third Kind

In the folklore of Great Britain, BIG CATS, also known as ABCs, that is, Alien Big Cats (Alien as anomalous rather than extraterrestrial) or sometimes Ghost Cats and Mystery Cats, are reports of bizarre or atypical felines seen or witnessed in the field. The media often report such sightings as “panthers” or “cougars” or simply “black cats.”

There is a disputed fringe theory that suggests that these beasts may, in some way, be surviving wildlife from the last ice age and it is interesting to note that lions certainly hunted prey, alongside tigers and jaguars, that also roamed Britain during the Pleistocene era (the Ice Age.) Fossils found in Yorkshire, Devon and London bear witness to “over-sized” lions that once stalked herds of giant deer and mammoths. These big cats are believed to have become extinct around 13,000 years ago.

ABC

Lions tigers and jaguars roamed Britain during the Pleistocene era…

But others have suggested that the ABC sightings are more likely to be exotic pets that have been (illegally) released into the environment, or large ‘farm-cats’ or zoological specimens that have escaped captivity. It is a fact that in 1980 a puma (a mountain lion) was captured alive in Scotland.

And there have been several verified accounts of sightings and/or remains found of Eurasian lynxes and the body of a jungle cat, hit by a car, found on the side of the road, in Shropshire in 1989. Other animals that have been observed include ocelots and serval cats. In 1996, in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland police shot a cat that was reportedly a caracal (also known as a Persian lynx). All these seem to have been released exotic pets.

One of the best documented reports of an ABC encounter was by the famous Rural Rides writer William Cobbett who reported seeing a lynx-type big cat (the size of a spaniel) at Waverley Abbey near Farnham in Surrey in 1770. On a later trip to Canada, he saw what he was told was a “lucifee” in native tongue (a North American lynx) and decided that it was exactly the “same cat” he had seen at Waverley. Is this account the origin of the Surrey Puma legend?

The so-called “Beast of Exmoor” is perhaps the most famous Alien Big Cat. Folklorists have long argued that ghostly feral cats haunt the South West of England. Sightings of the Exmoor big cat were first reported in the 1970s, although the beast became famous in 1983, when a South Molton farmer in Devon claimed to have lost more than 100 sheep to the beast.

It was thought that the creature could have been a cougar or a black leopard, judging from the wounds to the sheep (killed by a bite to the throat) and locals theorized that the cat had been released from a private collection sometime in the 1960s or 1970s (unlikely, as the lifespan of a cougar or leopard is around 12-15 years) and although there may have been escapees from private collections, it seems unlikely that a viable breeding population could ever have existed. Nevertheless, eye-witness accounts suggested that the animal was a large panther and capable of easily jumping 1.83-m (6-foot) hurdles.

Shortly after 1983, and in response to growing reports of livestock deaths and more sightings of the “Beast of Exmoor” the Ministry of Agriculture did the (almost) unthinkable and called in the military to take care of it. This was a significant turning point in the ABC’s history, because no one in authority had ever accepted or recognized that the big cat was a “problem” until that point.

So the Min of Ag ordered the Royal Marines to send snipers to the Exmoor Hills to capture or kill the beast. And, although some Marines claimed to have momentarily seen the enigmatic animal, they did not fire their weapons or collect any definitive evidence. The animal was neither captured nor killed.

Beast of Exmoor

Beast of Exmoor ?

During the hunt for the beast, the commanding officer of the Royal Marines was quoted as saying that the quarry behaved with high, almost human intelligence, and: “always moved with surrounding cover amongst hedges and woods...”

The Marines were recalled and thereafter attacks on local sheep reportedly increased! In 1987, the creature was linked to more than 200 farm animal deaths. More recent attacks were reported in 1995 and 2001, although the Ministry of Agriculture has now declared that the killings and sightings are either lies, myths or misidentifications of native creatures.

In April 2019, a large cat the size of a Labrador was spotted in the Cornish village of Harrowbarrow after the animal attacked a dog. That’s right — the cat attacked a dog! Residents claimed that five local domestic cats were missing and that a herd of deer no longer visited nearby fields. A large paw print was found, identified as that of a panther or puma by the RSPCA, and a few days after the discovery, a local girl, Becky Abrey, posted images of an ABC onto her site and reported her sighting to the local press.

@neilmach 2020 ©

Are there truly wild big cats roaming free in the UK, or are they merely constructed fantasies, misidentifications or false memories? See the trailer for the new documentary on the subject (below.)

The English novelist Neil Mach has gained widespread recognition for the creation of strong female characters and for compelling stories that often revolve around the themes of loyalty and duty.

His character MOONDOG is a Romani detective. He is called-in when other investigators hesitate. The detective inquires into things that lay “beyond normal human experience” where things hang in the balance between mundane and miraculous. In the novel Moondog and the Reed Leopard the detective is called to Groby to investigate a spate of BIG CAT attacks. The novel is OUT NOW.

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