Print 'proof' of big cat presence

Fife, Eastern Scotland.

Balbirnie cast (top), captive puma (right), dog (bottom), leopard (left)

Police believe they have the first conclusive proof a big cat, dubbed the "Beast of Balbirnie", could be on the loose in Fife.

There have been numerous reports of big cats in the Kingdom in recent years.

Now officers have had a plaster cast of a paw print verified by experts who believe it is of an 18-month-old exotic large cat.

Fife Police's wildlife crime officer, Mark Maylin, said it was most likely to be a print of a black leopard.

Mr Maylin said: "There had been several sightings at one time on the Balbirnie Estate near Glenrothes of a big cat so we went down and discovered this print.

"At the time there was a local man who said he had been walking his St Bernard dog in the area but I was convinced it had come from a big cat so I took a plaster cast of it to two experts who said immediately it was from an exotic cat.

"They couldn't be species-specific because there wasn't specific clarity in the heel pad but said judging by the size the animal was 18 months old and was the offspring of an animal released illegally in the 90s.

"I am resigned to the fact we are going to have to live with this big cat in the area. It hasn't hurt anyone in the past. I would urge people to refrain from shooting it because an injured animal is a very dangerous one."

Exciting news

Rob Martin, The Cat Survival Trust manager who verified the cast was that of a big cat, said it was "exciting news".

"It is definitely a big cat because there were no claw marks and the pad shapes are consistent with a cats.

"It's exciting to think big cats are living wild in Scotland but they will eventually die off. It's most likely to be a leopard."

Police sent the paw print off for analysis by experts

George Redpath, Fife's big cat researcher, said he was "delighted" it had finally been confirmed.

"I have always believed there are big cats in Fife after seeing black leopards on four different occasions.

"But it is great that finally we have the proof and that an expert has come forward to confirm it is the footprint of a big cat.

"Nobody should be unduly concerned because these cats have been here for years. they won't bother you if you don't bother them."

(Coincidentally, all this is near the town of Markinch where locals thought a strange beast was roaming the area - it turned out to be a St Bernard dog called Bernard).


South West 'is big cat hotspot'

The British Big Cats Society says cat sightings are increasing

The South West has been named as the UK's big cat hotspot.

Figures show 21% of the 2,052 sightings reported to the British Big Cats Society (BBCS) between January 2003 and March this year were in the region.

The BBCS says its figures show there is "little doubt" that big cats such as leopards, lynx and pumas are roaming the countryside.

Now, campaigners are calling for a government report on the issue - focused on the South West.

South West 21%
South East 16%
East Anglia 12%
Scotland 11%
West Midlands 9%
East Midlands 9%
North West 7%
North East 7%
Wales 5%
Ireland 3%

The society is calling on ministers to back a full UK-wide scientific investigation into sightings of big or exotic cats in rural Britain.

The 15-month survey by the BBCS, which is based in Devon, recorded an average of four sightings a day in the UK.

The study unearthed video and photographic evidence, plaster casts of paw prints and reports of attacks on horses and sheep.

The study is set to re-ignite debate about the so-called Beast of Bodmin Moor and similar sightings of big cat-like animals across rural Britain.

There were 96 reported observations of big cats in Cornwall during the survey period, 100 in Devon and 69 in Somerset, the BBCS said.

Local farmers have claimed that they lost sheep to a large animal roaming Bodmin Moor and in 1998 video footage was released showing what appeared to be a black animal resembling a wild cat.

But a government report in 1995 found no evidence of a big cat population on the moor.

'Scientific study'

BBCS founder Danny Bamping said: "Over the last 15 months we have been inundated with information about big cats, it's been rather overwhelming at times.

"The evidence has been growing and is increasingly clear.

"We are now going to approach the proper authorities to ask for their support in undertaking a properly-funded scientific study on the big cats in Britain.

"We'd like to focus on the South West because this is the most active area."

The survey recorded 231 reported sightings in Scotland, 141 in Kent, 127 in Yorkshire and 102 in Wales.

But observations were not limited to rural areas, with seven recorded sightings of big cat activity in London during the period.