Is there an “Exmoor Beast”? Is it a black leopard or maybe even a puma or could even both be walking around us in the few wild places we have left in-between out homes and work places? Most people who believe they have seen the “mythical beast” would say that it was a black leopard just like our two cats here at Exmoor Zoo!
Ebony is our black lady leopard, who is, amazingly, just one of five left in captivity in Great Britain. She is just one of two possible breeding females throughout the British Isles! Born in the Santago Rare Cat Trust in Hertfordshire, her dad is American and mum a Czech! She has settled down into a daily routine and now regularly awaits her afternoon feed, timed with a talk on the "Exmoor Beast" at 4.15pm (not Fridays).
Beware if you visit! She can be difficult to locate inside her natural enclosure, often asleep during mid-day (especially if sunny) - but only too ready to eye up any potential meals in the surrounding countryside or the occassional visitor to the zoo that attracts her attention!
We were lucky enough to find and be allowed to look after a male black leopard from Linton Zoo in Cambridgeshire in December 2009 and "Zoysa" after a 15 month separation (side by side) has now joined Ebony in the Exmoor Beast exhibit.
A selection of skulls and artefacts from Exmoor is on display at the enclosure, as well as boards and signs telling all our visitors all about the myth and legend of our "Exmoor Beast" as well as some of the recent newspaper stories of sightings!
Come and visit. Have you seen the Exmoor beast?"
'Beast of Exmoor' Sighting
4th June 2008
Sightings of a large, black cat were reported over half term at Wistlandpound.
A family on holiday over the half term week may have caught a glimpse of the mysterious 'Beast of Exmoor' in Wistlandpound's woodlands.
The Beast of Exmoor is thought to be a black leopard or cougar that was released on Exmoor in the 1960's.
THE BEAST OF EXMOOR
FACT, FOLKLORE & LEGEND by Trevor Beer OBE, naruralist writer for the North Devon Journal
There is no single Beast of Exmoor. There are a number of big cats loose in the countryside including black leopard and puma. There are also other alien species of smaller cats including lynx with some, including the Asian Leopard Cat and the Swamp Cat, having been shot in recent years in Britain.
At present both black leopards and pumas have been seen with cubs and sub adults on Exmoor, Dartmoor and elsewhere in the Westcountry. Thus we now have feral big-cats in the British Isles, a modern day legend.
So, the so-called Beast of Exmoor entered our folklore in the 20th century and as with all folklore and legend there is no smoke without fire.
Scottish folklore refers to strange black cats including Cait Sith, the Fairy Cat, a large black animal with dark green eyes and, some say, a white throat patch. The bristly black pelage has sparks over its fur which suggests a sprinkling of white guard hairs.
This is interesting as a fairly recent black cat situation in Scotland involving the Kellas Cat, refers to a very similar animal though these cats are smallish compared with leopards.
The Kellas Cat remains a mystery in that Science has not stated conclusively whether it is a melanistic form of the wildcat (Felis sylvestris) or a hybrid twixt a wildcat and domestic feral, or a mutant, or whatever. A number of this felid type have been shot in the area and one or two captured but we still await final identifications and an end to the confusion. (Kellas from the area of Scotland where the first of these cats was found.)
There is also evidence that certain northern Scottish place names suggests one of the native animals into the regions tribal nomenclature may well have been a large black cat. If we link this with early Roman & post-Roman times and their recorded fondness for keeping big-cats and other large animals then the origin of such tales naturally became part of Scottish lore.
There is a larger black cat, the demonic god of the cats in the history and natural history of the Highlands which appears at the ceremony of the Taghairm, a macabre ceremony during which cats are roasted alive on spits for four days and nights until Big Ears the demon cat appears, to grant the wishes of these vicious animal torturers.
The taghairm is said to have been performed by one, Lauchlan MacLean, for the last time in mull at the beginning of the 17th century and it is said infernal spirits began to enter the house, or barn, in the form of black cats.
A cat of enormous size eventually appeared threatening that if the taghairm ceremony did not cease before his great brother arrived he would never behold the face of god. MacLean refused and by the end of four days there were black cats on all the rafters of the building yelling so loudly they could be heard beyond the sound of mull in morvern.
Eventually the gigantic cat known as Big Ears appeared, perched upon a stone and granted Lauchlan Maclean and his brother Allan their wishes for wealth and progeny.
(Scottish folklore & folklife,
Donald A. Mackenzie, 1935)
Note: The term Big Cat correctly applied refers to the genus Panthera, the lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar and snow leopard, and only these five. The puma and lynx are in the genus Felix, the Small Cats, even though the puma is about leopard size.
Trevor Beer will answer queries regarding the mystery cats at large in Britain and would be pleased to receive sightings whether old or recent. Confidentiality is guaranteed if desired. Write to him at Roselea, 38 Park Avenue, Barnstaple, Devon, EX31 2ES or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org