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Tynedale Big Cat (2000)

The Hexham Courant published the following article by J Marley entitled 'Mystery of big cats' on Friday 3 March 2000.

THE descriptions all seem to match != black, the size of a labrador and with a long tail sweeping down to the ground != and over the past few years there have been dozens of reports from across the district of sightings of big cats.

Many of those who claim to have seen the creature or creatures used to laugh at the idea of big cats roaming the countryside of Tynedale but are now convinced by what they saw.

One of those was retired publican Ken Watts who since seeing the beast last summer has kept track of all of the sightings of the animal.

And in addition to the reported big cat sightings Mr Watts has been approached by members of the public who have kept quiet about seeing the creature in case people did not believe them.

Based on sightings reported in the Courant and evidence gathered by Mr Watts, we have drawn up a map pinpointing sightings since last year.

Last summer there were a spate of sightings in the Lowgate area and in recent weeks the beast has been spotted again in Hexham and also near Blanchland.

Although not covered by the map there have been several sightings between Blanchland and Derwent Reservoir.

The last detailed sighting was by staff at Pattersons garage in Hexham who watched as a labrador-sized black cat prowled through a nearby field.

Many of those who saw the creature described it as a black panther but Mr Watts says the cat is slimmer and less powerful and puts the descriptions down to a general lack of knowledge about the big cat family.

He said: If it was anything like a puma or panther it would be doing a lot of damage.

From what I have seen of it would probably be living on rabbits. It may be able to take out a small lamb but certainly not sheep and cattle.

It is a bit like a small cheetah but black, it has a lean build and it is certainly not a domestic cat.

It is about 3-4ft long and its tail is about 2ft long, curling up from the ground. I donpit know what it is because I haven't seen anything that can be properly compared to it.

One of the theories explaining the sightings of big cats is that they were released into the wild by owners after the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 made it illegal to keep them without a licence.

And in other parts of the country former big cat owners have admitted releasing them into the wild.

This view is supported by big cat enthusiast Clive Moulding who has set up an internet site to document sightings across the country.

Zoologist Quentin Rose this week estimated that more than 100 big cats were on the loose in the UK, with numbers set to keep on increasing.

Conditions in the British countryside are ideal for big cats with no natural predators and an abundance of food sources. They even like the weather.

This is backed up by significant increases in the number of sightings reported in recent years and Mr Rose fears there could be an explosion in the big cat population in the next 20 years.

But a more mundane answer could be that the creature is a cross between a Scottish wildcat and a feral cat. The offspring of such a pairing is a much bigger cat than either of the parents, but according to Mr Watts although it seems a likely explanation the size is still not big enough to account for the creature that he and dozens of others in Tynedale are sure they have seen.

There have also been several isolated reports of grey and golden coloured cats and several years ago there was a steady flow of sightings from the North Tyne and Redesdale areas.

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