What's up... pussycat?
WE HAVE real-life beasties such as the midge and fantastical monsters such as Nessie, but now investigators believe they have found a new fearsome creature roaming the forests and glens of Scotland.
Researchers have produced two carcasses of what they hope is a previously undiscovered species - a large rabbit-headed wildcat.
The mystery black mammal has a small head, a large snout, long canine teeth and - most distinctively - long ears which bear a resemblance to a rabbit or hare.
Big cat hunters are calling on gamekeepers to help trap a live rabbit-headed cat so its identity can be established once and for all.
The woman who is leading the appeal, Di Francis, helped prove the existence of the Kellas cat, a previously unknown subspecies of the European wildcat, in the 1990s.
The discovery of the powerful 25in-long beast, which had been assumed to be mythological, proved for the first time that black wildcats existed in Scotland.
But the Banffshire-based author and investigator believes the rabbit-headed cat is potentially an even more important discovery, distinct from the hundreds of wild and big cats spotted across Britain each year.
Francis first became aware of the mystery creature in the 1980s, but kept it under wraps until further evidence emerged.
"A gamekeeper brought me the body of an animal which had been killed in the Dufftown area of Banffshire," she said.
"He thought it was a Kellas and put it straight in the freezer for me, but it was like nothing I had ever seen before.
"It reminded me of one of the rabbits from the poster for the film Watership Down. It had a sloped forehead, a very bulbous nose and huge ears."
Francis had the animal stripped down to the bone and found it was even more bizarre on the inside.
"It was a very long, very heavy skull, but it had the cranial capacity half that of a domestic cat," she said.
"The canine teeth are very long and were almost like one of the sabretooths of prehistoric times. The ear drums were very large, suggesting excellent hearing.
"It would appear to be the perfect instinctive hunter, a sort of feline shark."
Francis believed it was an unknown species, but it wasn't until the 1990s that another similar carcass was discovered.
A gamekeeper walking near East Kilbride shot a rabbit-headed cat, which he had seen in a river stalking ducks before it attacked his two dogs.
"Instead of running away the cat turned around and took the dog on. To everyone's surprise it took one dog by the scruff of the neck and threw it," Francis said. "Regrettably he had to shoot it because he feared the dogs would be killed."
The distinctive skull of the East Kilbride animal was identical to the Dufftown cat.
Francis was further encouraged by a photograph in a 1938 edition of Scottish Field magazine, which appeared to show a rabbit-headed cat found in Elgin, Moray.
"If these cats are a new species indigenous to the British Isles, it would be without doubt an exciting and important zoological discovery," she said.
"That it could escape detection for so long is surprising. In the future it will hopefully be possible to carry out genetic tests on specimens to confirm or eliminate a species link."
More recent sightings have encouraged Francis and fellow investigators that a breakthrough could be on the horizon.
"We are appealing to landowners and gamekeepers throughout Scotland to help in the hunt," said Mark Fraser of research group Big Cats In Britain.
"It is important that any cat, rabbit-headed or otherwise, caught alive is not killed, but kept secure until the animal can be sedated and removed safely from the trap.
"We are also keen to examine any strange-looking cats discovered dead as a result of road kills or gamekeeping."
Dr Darren Naish, of Portsmouth University, has studied photos of the rabbit-headed cats and believes further investigation is necessary.
"I found that several anatomical features visible in the photos were highly interesting and very odd compared to the skull features of domestic cats, Scottish wildcats and Kellas cats," he said.
"These features, including a different tooth count, brain size, bone texture and the shape of the lower jaw, certainly suggested to me that the Dufftown cat was unusual and worthy of further investigation."
Naish, a cryptozoologist, added: "If it is a new type of cat, as has been suggested, then this would be an immense discovery."
Dr Andrew Kitchener, curator of mammals with the National Museum of Scotland was more sceptical.
"My hunch is that these rabbit-headed cats are a hybrid between wildcats and domestic cats or domestic cats with unusual features," he said. "But I would be more than willing to examine and analyse a specimen if one was presented to me."
A joke that really was beyond belief
IT'S not easy being a rabbit-headed cat, you know.
You probably thought you had a hard time at school because you had a couple of plooks and your mum made you wear that embarrassing jumper that your gran knitted.
Imagine trying to impress Lucy and Lisa, the foxy leveret twins, when you've got a face like Maisie, the Morningside cat, a growl like Ian Paisley after a vindaloo, teeth like Tony the Tiger, and a pair of humongous lugs that would put Prince Charles to shame.
And don't even start on the jokes.
"Been creeping up on any carrots lately?"
"Heard you gave those dandelion leaves a really good savaging the another night!
"How do you get your litter tray down your burrow, big ears?"
I've heard them all.
Worst of all are those beardy scientists who say I don't exist.
Saw one a few weeks back.
You know the sort: woolly bunnet with a wee bobble on top, socks and sandals, tartan flask dangling limply from his anorak.
"A wave of public adoration will force Tony Blair to stay on as Prime Minister, Jack McConnell will win a landslide election at Holyrood and President Bush will learn to tie his own shoelaces," lisped the bold professor as his wee bandy-legs shuffled by.
Now, my friend, that really was beyond belief.
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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