The Wild Beasts of Devon
Have you seen any wild beasts lately? Take a pleasant unhurried stroll along the public footpaths and winding country lanes of Devon's rolling green countryside and you are likely to observe much in the way of wildlife. Many species of wild beasts include beautiful wild birds, roe deer, badgers, rabbits, maybe the odd fox out in the daytime, pumas, leopards, lynxes . . .
Huh! Pumas? Leopards? Lynxes? Big cats prowling around Devon's countryside? Well, some folks seem to be convinced that jungle cats are indeed a feature of modern day rural Britain.
Reports about sightings of big cats roaming wild in the United Kingdom countryside are on the increase, and apparently Devon has now ousted bonny Scotland as the number one area for big cat sightings.
Devon Big Cats - do they exist?
So is it true? Are you likely to come face to face with a panting black panther as you enjoy the fresh clean air of the Devon countryside? Not very likely, although not impossible.
Somewhat like reports of the monster of Loch Ness, or sightings of UFOs, there are plenty of eyewitness accounts but very little in the way of hard evidence as to the existence of these big cats or other wild beasts.
Until fairly recently there were not too many claims about huge cats or wild beasts on the loose. In fact in the nineteenth century claims of sightings of huge ferocious wild dogs often made the press, hence Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's excellent Sherlock Holmes adventure "The Hound of the Baskervilles".
Sightings of big cats did not gain momentum until after the passing of the "Dangerous Animals Act" in 1976. Before that act became law it was perfectly legal, if foolhardy, to keep jungle cats as 'pets' in Britain. Some owners of big cats, of course, did not want their 'pets' put to sleep, or to give them up to the authorities. The British Big Cat Society claims evidence of at least 23 of these cats being released in areas like Dartmoor, Exmoor and Bodmin moor, it is likely though that there was many more releases than that.
But it would have to be the offspring of these formally captive cats to be the subject of today's big cat sightings. Could they have established feral populations? Possible, but then the male panther that one owner released would have to meet with the female panther released by another owner possibly miles away. Possible yes, but not very likely. So what are these wild beasts?
The Beast of Exmoor? Send in the Marines.
Since the '70's there have been reports of the "Beast of Exmoor", claimed by eyewitnesses to be either a panther, a puma, or a large gray cat. One farmer in South Molton stated in 1983 that he had lost over a hundred sheep to the beast.
The Beast of Exmoor has been taken seriously though. In 1988 a detachment of Royal Marines was sent to Exmoor to capture or kill the beast. If the big cat existed it evaded the troops, although some individual Marines claimed to have seen it.
Rumors persisted however, and in the mid '90's the Ministry of Agriculture conducted a study into the "wild beasts" phenomenon. The conclusion was though that no such big cat was at large on Exmoor and reported sightings were of native animals, or mischievous hoaxes.
There has been precious little evidence uncovered to support the existence of big cats on the lose in Devon, or elsewhere in Britain. Many photographs have been put forward purporting to be panthers, pumas or other wild felines, but most of these are so fuzzy and out of focus that it is not possible to state with certainty what animal they show. One recent example was found, after examination, to be a photo of. . .
. . . a cuddly toy.
In 2005 a Devon farmer uncovered a large feline skull. On examination it was in indeed identified as a skull of a Puma. But there is no proof that it is part of the remains of a puma that roamed the countryside of Devon.
Enjoy your Devon walks safe in the knowledge that you are most unlikely to be watched by a wolf, pounced on by a panther, or pawed by a puma. You could chance across a feral tabby in the countryside but it would be the rodent and bird life that would be at risk, rather than the rambler. The truly wild beasts are most likely a product of an overactive imagination.
One way to increase your chances of a meeting with a 'big cat', is to sit yourself down in a field with a large flagon of delicious, but potent, Devon Scrumpy. After a pint or three your eyes may get a little heavy. What's that sound behind you? Isn't that the unmistakable padding of feline paws through grass? Watch out! . . .meowwww.
This entertaining and original article is brought to you by Larry of Best Cat Art - a site about all that is best in cat art. Cat art books, calendars, figurines, posters and prints. Also pages of general information about the domestic cat.
Why don't you tell us about your Big Cat sightings? Larry feels that they're not really big cats, what do you think?
Have YOU Seen a Big Cat?
There are many reports of big cats roaming in Devon. Have you seen one? If you have, we'd love to hear about it, use the form to tell us and we can compare notes.
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