Sunday, 1 May 2011

Grisly find as ‘big cat’ 
is caught 
on camera

The big cat pictured on camera near Embo
By Hector Mackenzie
Published: 29 April, 2011

A GRISLY find in Ross-shire and an intriguing image captured on camera has further fuelled speculation that a big cat is on the prowl.

The sighting of a large, cat-like beast stopped Tain sisters Lisa and Alana Sydenham in their tracks as they were out driving near Embo on Wednesday night.

Meanwhile on the Black Isle, the stripped-to-the-bone remains of a deer and large paw prints in the mud left another landowner pondering the possibility that a big cat is responsible.

The latest revelations follow last week’s exclusive Ross-shire Journal story in which Easter Ross farmer George Ross, of Rheguile Farm, spoke of the savaging of 18 of his sheep since the beginning of the year.

Lisa Sydenham (29), an administration and information technology student at Dornoch College, contacted the Journal yesterday after her sighting on Wednesday night. She had been driving with sister Alana (26) near Embo outside Dornoch when she caught sight of a large beast on the prowl.

Lisa, who snapped the black creature with the point-and-shoot digital camera she was carrying around 8.30pm on Wednesday night, told the Journal, “It was definitely not just a large domestic cat or dog.

“At first I thought it was a very large dog but from the way it was walking and the shape of its body I could tell that it was a big cat. It was quite a distance away over a field. My sister Alana and I were at first very surprised and then excited. I looked into it and found there had been another sighting in the area last September.

“It looked and moved like a cat.

“It spotted me and crouched down in the grass before walking off. We must have watched it for about five minutes in all.”

She speculated that changes in animal licensing laws some time ago had prompted the owners of some exotic animals to release them into the wild.

The Journal was also contacted yesterday by Black Isle-based Alison Kennedy, who lives near Culbokie. She stumbled across the remains of a deer on land she owns at Upper Braefindon on Monday night and is hoping for some expert analysis of distinctive paw prints found in the mud near the kill.

She told the Journal, “On returning to the spot on Tuesday there were signs that the carcass had been dragged further away and carried off, nothing remained but a severed leg. All other stories only show remains of savaged animals, but I have pictures of paw prints at the site of the attack and the very fresh, almost totally eaten carcass.

“I tried to get SAC vets to visit the site and confirm what might have killed the deer, but have had no response so far.

“If it was dogs, that in itself is very worrying, given the livestock in the area, but more so if it is a big cat.”

She said there were obvious signs of a struggle and the appearance that the deer had been dragged a significant distance during the apparent attack.

Chief Inspector Paul Eddington, who has several years’ experience as a police wildlife crime coordinator specialist under his belt, said there had been several very credible sightings of big cats in Ross-shire down the years.

He said too there had been several stories of exotic animals being released in the Highlands since the 1970s following changes in legislation surrounding what people are permitted to keep as pets.

There have also been documented instances of domesticated cats turning feral and breeding with wildcats.

Ch Insp Eddington also recalled the December 2008 report — first revealed by the Journal — of the attack on a 73-year-old Easter Ross woman convinced she had been mauled after disturbing a big cat near her home.

Pat McLeod, who lived in a remote cottage outside Alness, had required hospital treatment for cuts sustained in an attack the exact details of which remain a mystery. Police were sufficiently convinced to lay traps and issue a warning to the public to be vigilant.

Ch Insp Eddington said, “Anyone who sees something unusual is encouraged to contact us. There’s an issue of public safety to consider and also the wellbeing of any such creature. We have had a number of credible reports down the years and people can be assured they will always be taken at face value.”

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