Was it The Beast of Duffus?
WITH its small head, pointy ears and broad shoulders, the panther-like black beast prowling out of the woodland looked like no ordinary house cat.
For Craig Cordell who had taken his wife and three young children on an Easter Sunday visit to Duffus Castle, near Elgin, the animal's presence gave him the rare opportunity to photograph one of Scotland's most mysterious and controversial creatures – the big cat.
The sighting has reignited the debate on the creatures which some say are pumas, leopards or lynx but which others maintain are figments of overactive imaginations.
Mr Cordell, 30, from Lossiemouth, was wandering around the ruined Norman castle grounds with his wife Angela, and children Chloe, 12, Jack, seven, and Scott, five, when they spotted the big cat. He said: "I looked up and there it was skulking about at quite a distance away.
"I have three house cats but this was much bigger. It was about twice the size of a normal cat.
"It had broader shoulders and was far more muscular with bigger ears. I'd never seen one before. Because I have an SLR camera which has a telephoto zoom lens, I was able to get a good shot of it."
The keen photographer said he has heard of several sightings in the area but it was the first time he had seen it.
He added: "I was just so amazed. It was no ordinary moggy, and although it wasn't huge, it's definitely not something you would have in the house.
"Most people have reported seeing just a glimpse of it but I managed to watch it prowling about for five minutes.
"It was such a great thing to see and I'm hoping I'll get the chance again."
A recent Freedom of Information request revealed that there were 200 reports of alleged big cats to police forces in Scotland between 2000 and 2006. Strathclyde Police deployed its helicopter on four occasions after alleged sightings.
Experts believe there are currently 40-100 big cats in Scotland with "hot spots" in Grampian and Fife, followed by Lothian and Strathclyde.
George Redpath, a big cat expert and researcher, from Balmullo near St Andrews, said that the big cats' origins were unknown but were believed to be descendants of black leopards, pumas and lynx released into the wild by their owners.
"Sightings of big cats are on the increase possibly because they are breeding or because more people are reporting them.
"They are not a danger if left alone and given an avenue to escape. But it is a dangerous animal so it is best to back slowly if you spot one, get inside and telephone the police.
"They hunt during the day because no-one is hunting them. They go for rabbits or deer over their territory of over 50 square miles. They then move on to other territory leading to more sightings."
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