Scotland's big cat sightings: is there any truth behind them?

Scotland has a rich tradition of mysterious big cat sightings.

Puma in the wild. Pic: Shutterstock
Puma in the wild. Pic: Shutterstock

The most recent was the so-called black 'panther' spotted in an Ayrshire field by the B730 road last Friday.

The reports led to Police Scotland issuing a statement urging local residents to be vigilant - and a police helicopter was brought in for the search operation.

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But the force later clarified that an animal expert was unconvinced that the cat was a black panther.

The 'Beast of Buchan' was another big cat sighted many times by local people. Animal in long grass. Pic: Robert Perry Scotland on Sunday, 14th Nov 2006
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Police say '˜big cat' in Ayrshire isn't black panther

The UK only has one native species of cat: the Scottish Wildcat.

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It's about the same size as a domestic cat and lives in tiny, dwindling numbers, exclusively in the Scottish Highlands.

But for decades, people across the country have reported seeing much larger felines on the prowl.

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Many simply dismiss phantom cat sightings as misidentifications of dogs or exaggerated sightings of domestic cats. Others maintain that more exotic cats could be stalking our shores.

Most experts believe it's extremely unlikely that any breeding population of non-native felines exists in the UK. But the phantom cats spotted in Scotland over the years could also be animals that have been released - or even escaped - from captivity.

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As of December 2016, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had received 27 reports of exotic cats which escaped from zoos or private collections since 1975. But that's not to say all cases of an escaped or released exotic cat will be reported.

Some of Scotland's big cat sightings

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'The Puma of the Glen' - 1980

Scotland's most famous wild big cat was a puma named Felicity. She was captured alive by farmer Ted Noble at Cannich, near Drumnadrochit by Loch Ness, in 1980, sparking a media stampede to the Highlands. The capture followed a string of sightings which dated back to 1976. Local farmers, including Mr Noble, had also reported of their livestock being mauled on various occasions.

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Felicity's case is sometimes cited as evidence that there are non-native cats in Scotland, but some say the capture was a staged event. Reports at the time say she was a very tame creature, suggesting she may have previously been someone's pet.

Following capture, the puma was moved to the Highland Wildlife Park where she ended her days as something of a tourist attraction.

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'Beast of Banff' - 2007

A big black panther-like animal was seen only yards from the edge of Banff. It was spotted on the prowl in broad daylight above the Links, terrifying a holiday visitor who was out for an afternoon stroll.

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And at least one nearby resident has also seen a big cat at close hand.

The creature has been described as being five feet long and three feet high. It walked across the path of the man who was staying at the Banff Springs Hotel over the holiday period as he was out for a walk near the hotel on Hogmanay, according to the Banffshire Journal.

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Helensburgh, Argyll - 2009

An off-duty Ministry of Defence police dog handler took a video after spotting a panther-sized big cat.

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Pc Chris Swallow told the BBC at the time he was helping a friend with their garden in Helensburgh when he spotted the black creature on a nearby railway line.

However, animal experts concluded it was nothing more than an overfed moggy.

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Big cats have been reported in the area in the past, with several sightings of the so-called Coulport Cougar.

'The Edzell panther'

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There have been repeated sightings of a big cat which is said to be roaming Angus.

In 2015, car passenger Jo Tonkinson claimed to have seen a black "leopard-sized/shaped cat" ‘stalking’ along the fence line while travelling just off the A90 near Edzell.

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There was a sighting near the same spot in 2013, when Dorothy Pert of Edzell Woods was in the car with her husband when the cat allegedly crossed their path. There were other sightings near Benholm Mill and Auchenblae.

Angus man Neil Wood also claims he came face to face with the region’s big cat, lying on a wall by the roadside, while approaching Edzell in 2001.

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There was also a report of a large black cat approximately one metre high made to police in 2008 on woodland near Edzell.

Bonnyrigg big cat

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More sightings were recorded in August this year of a mysterious large black cat which has been spotted roaming in and around Bonnyrigg in Midlothian in recent years.

A photograph posted in a local Facebook group sparked dozens of comments from other people claiming to have seen it.