The Beast of Exmoor is a big cat blamed for numerous attacks on livestock that is reported to roam the fields of Devon and Somerset in the United Kingdom. Due to the numerous eye witness sightings, many scientists believe it to be highly probable that the beast is in fact real. It is known to target animals and sometimes even people, often around large open water areas. Reports have indicated that the beast is comfortable attacking groups of up to 8 or 9 people that have become isolated at such water locations.
Eyewitness testimony has produced a number of different descriptions. Most accounts report the animal as being a large cat either resembling a puma or a panther. It is recorded as being somewhere between four and eight feet from nose to tail, standing very low to the ground, and as having the ability to leap over 6-foot-tall fences with ease.
Descriptions of its coloration range from black to tan or dark gray.
No such cat is native to England, and the variations in description have lead some cryptozoologists to believe that there might be more than one creature.
History of sightings
- Sightings of the Beast of Exmoor were first reported in the 1970s, although the period of its notoriety began in 1983, when a South Molton farmer named Eric Ley claimed to have lost over a hundred sheep in the space of three months, all of them apparently killed by violent throat injuries. The Daily Express offered a reward for the capture or slaying of the Beast. By 1987, the creature was connected to over 200 farm animal deaths.
- In 1988, in response to increased reports of livestock death and sightings of the Beast, the Ministry of Agriculture ordered the Royal Marines to send sharpshooters into the Exmoor hills—although some Marines claimed to have seen the Beast fleetingly, no shots were fired, and the number of attacks on livestock dwindled. Ultimately, the Marines were recalled from the field, after which the attacks on the local sheep allegedly increased.
- More recent attacks were reported in 1995 and 2001. The Ministry continued to study the reported sightings into the mid-1990s, before concluding that the Beast was either a hoax or myth and that the alleged sightings had been mistaken identifications of creatures native to the Exmoor area.
- Trevor Beer, a local naturalist who happened to be bird watching in the creatures hunting zone, claimed to have had a close encounter with the beast. As Beer watched, the terror walked from a collection of bushes and into the man's line of sight. Beer claimed the head was otter-like with small ears and the eyes of the creature were greeny-yellow, helping to distracted from the "thickish neck and powerful looking forelegs." Beer seems to have been lucky- the creature quickly turned and dashed into the void of darkness.
Most observers and scientists believe that the sightings are merely of escaped domestic cats whose size has been greatly exaggerated, or else of large dogs that have been misidentified. The livestock deaths have often been attributed to these large dogs, although human attacks on the sheep have also been suspected.
Although large cats are not native to England, some people have kept exotic animals, and in the mid 1970s this became something of a fad. It is inevitable that some have escaped over the years, and conceivable that they created a small group of big cats living hidden in the Exmoor area's countryside. In particular, the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act, which controlled the keeping of big cats (among other things) led to the mass release of many privately owned wild cats.
Some descriptions of the Beast attribute it the features of both a puma and a leopard. Although these animals have been hybridised by Carl Hagenbeck in captivity, the offspring were always found to be dwarfed and short-lived; one such hybrid is preserved in the Zoological Museum at Tring. The name for such a hybrid is a Pumapard. Because male big cat hybrids are always sterile, a self-perpetuating race of puma-leopard hybrids is not possible. The apparent mix of features is probably due to inexpert witnesses rather than hybrid origin.