|Sub grouping||Alien big cat|
There have been numerous reports of eyewitness sightings, however the official Exmoor National Park website lists the beast under "Traditions, Folklore, and Legends", and the BBC calls it "the famous-yet-elusive beast of Exmoor." Sightings were first reported in the 1970s, although it became notorious in 1983, when a South Molton farmer claimed to have lost over 100 sheep in the space of three months, all of them apparently killed by violent throat injuries.
Descriptions of its coloration range from black to tan or dark grey. It has been suggested that the beast may possibly be a cougar or black leopard which was released from a private collection sometime in the 1960s or 1970s after a law was passed making it illegal for them to be kept in captivity outside zoos. However, considering that cougar and leopard life spans are 12–15 years, this is unlikely. In 2006 the British Big Cats Society reported that a skull found by a Devon farmer was that of a puma, however the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) states that "Based on the evidence, Defra does not believe that there are big cats living in the wild in England."
Eyewitness testimony has produced a number of different descriptions. Most accounts report the animal as being a large cat either resembling a puma or a panther. It is recorded as being somewhere between four and eight feet from nose to tail, standing very low to the ground, and as having the ability to leap over 6-foot-tall fences with ease. Descriptions of its coloration range from black to tan or dark grey.
No such cat is native to England, and the variations in description have led some cryptozoologists to believe that there might be more than one creature.
Sightings of the Beast of Exmoor were first reported in the 1970s, although the period of its notoriety began in 1983, when a South Molton farmer named Eric Ley claimed to have lost over a hundred sheep in the space of three months, all of them apparently killed by violent throat injuries. There was even a report of the Beast seen "fishing" with its paw into the River Barle at Simonsbath, whilst some locals theorised that its lair might be in old mine workings on the Moor. The Daily Express offered a reward for the capture or slaying of the Beast. Farm animal deaths in the area have been sporadically blamed on the Beast ever since.
Photographs have been produced on at least three occasions, one of which appeared in the West Somerset Free Press in 1989, taken by the Lewis Family of Blue Anchor, and all appear to show a big cat with the features of both a puma and a panther.
Most observers and scientists believe that the sightings are merely of escaped domestic cats whose size has been greatly exaggerated, or else of large dogs that have been misidentified. The livestock deaths have often been attributed to these large dogs, although human attacks on the sheep have also been suspected.
Although large cats are not native to England, some people have kept exotic animals, and in the mid 1970s this became something of a fad. It is inevitable that some have escaped over the years, and conceivable that they created a small group of big cats living hidden in the Exmoor area's countryside. In particular, the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act, which controlled the keeping of big cats (among other things) led to the mass release of many privately owned wild cats.
Some descriptions of the Beast attribute it the features of both a puma and a leopard. Although these animals have been hybridized by Carl Hagenbeck in captivity, the offspring were always found to be dwarfed and short-lived; one such hybrid is preserved in the Zoological Museum at Tring. The name for such a hybrid is a Pumapard. Because male big cat hybrids are always sterile, a self-perpetuating race of puma-leopard hybrids is not possible. The apparent mix of features is probably due to inexpert witnesses rather than hybrid origin.
Soon after 1983, in response to increased reports of livestock death and sightings of the Beast, the Ministry of Agriculture ordered the Royal Marines to send snipers into the Exmoor hills—although some Marines claimed to have seen the Beast fleetingly, no shots were fired, partially because of the risk of the Marines' high-powered sniper rifle bullets passing straight through the creature's body and then causing injury to humans or livestock etc., and the number of attacks on livestock dwindled.
During the search the Marines' commanding officer was quoted as saying that their quarry behaved with high, almost human, intelligence and "always moved with surrounding cover amongst hedges and woods" Ultimately, the Marines were recalled from the field, after which the attacks on the local sheep allegedly increased.
By 1987, the creature was connected to over 200 farm animal deaths. More recent attacks were reported in 1995 and 2001. The Ministry continued to study the reported sightings into the mid-1990s, before concluding that the Beast was either a hoax or myth and that the alleged sightings had been mistaken identifications of creatures native to the Exmoor area.
- "Traditions, folklore and traditions". Exmoor National Park. Archived from the original on 2008-03-08. Retrieved 2008-01-15.
- "Exmoor National Park". BBC Science and Nature: Animals. Retrieved 2008-01-15.
- Beer, Trevor (1986). The beast of Exmoor: Fact or legend?. Countryside Productions. ISBN 0-9515775-0-6.
- "The Beast of Exmoor". Everything Exmoor. Retrieved 2007-12-07.
- "Puma factfile". San Diego Zoo. Archived from the original on 23 December 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-08.
- "Leopard factfile". San Diego Zoo. Archived from the original on 17 December 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-08.
- "Exclusive BBCS report reveals startling new evidence for big cats in Britain". British Big Cats Society. Archived from the original on 13 January 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-01.
- "MQ: The Black Beast of Exmoor". The Skeptical Viewer. Monster Quest. 2008-07-11. Archived from the original on 6 January 2009. Retrieved 12 December 2009.
- "The Beast of Exmoor". Exmoorian. Retrieved 12 December 2009.
- "What is the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976?". Bigt Cats GB. Archived from the original on 2 October 2009. Retrieved 4 February 2012.
- "Big Cat Monitors". Big Cat Monitors. Archived from the original on 19 January 2012. Retrieved 4 February 2012.
- "UK Big Cats History". UK Big Cats. Archived from the original on 4 February 2012. Retrieved 4 February 2012.
- "Big cat Britain: the sightings". The Telegraph. 2 February 2012. Archived from the original on 2 February 2012. Retrieved 4 February 2012.
- Becquart, Charlotte; Clark, Daniel (28 January 2018). "Is there a Beast of Bodmin? All the evidence for and against the big cat roaming the region". Devon Live. Retrieved 2 January 2019.
- Karl Shuker, Mystery Cats of the World: From Blue Tigers To Exmoor Beasts (Robert Hale, 1989).
- Joel Levy, A Natural History of the Unnatural World. ISBN 0-312-20703-4.
- Chris Moiser, Mystery Big Cats of Devon and Cornwall and Big Cat Mysteries of Somerset.
- Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark, Cryptozoology A To Z : The Encyclopedia Of Loch Monsters, Sasquatch, Chupacabras and other Authentic M . ISBN 0-684-85602-6.
- Entry on the Beast at ukbigcats.co.uk