The Mysterious Beast Of Exmoor
For over 200 years, the rural areas of the United Kingdom have been attacked by mysterious feline intruders. As incidents involving these creepy intruders continue to be reported, we interpret and question what are the 'Beasts of Exmoor'.
As he laid on his back, staring up into the starry skies above, the young Commando smiled contentedly to himself. It may not have been the warmest of evenings, but being concealed in a wood in the middle of North Devon was far preferable to perching on top of a building in the middle of Belfast, playing hide and seek with his opposite numbers in the Irish Republican Army.
Despite having been a Royal Marine for only a short period of time, a natural aptitude for the Lee Enfield Enforcer meant that he had flown through Sniper School, landing himself a spot on one of the regiment's most prestigious teams. And thanks to a quirk of fate, he now found himself sitting only an hour's drive from his base in Lympstone, hunting a fairytale through the rolling Devonshire Countryside. There had been no small amount of laughter at the Briefing, when he and the rest of his section had been told the reason for their secretive deployment.
A farmer in South Molton had reported that over a three-month period, something had slaughtered over 100 of his sheep, tearing their throats apart with its bare teeth. Their mission was simple: find and eliminate what has become known as the "Beast of Exmoor". For the past three nights, the five sniper teams had secreted themselves at different positions around the farm's perimeter, waiting for the attacker to reveal itself. So far, nothing of any interest had occurred and with only a few hours remaining until daylight, it looked as if tonight would also end in a no-show.
The sound of a hollow twig snapping loudly off to one side suddenly shattered the silence, jolting the young Marine away from his thoughts. Whilst his eyes gradually adjusted to penetrate the surrounding gloom, there were further quieter noises, as if someone was carefully shifting their body weight.
Slowly rising to his feet, the British soldier switched on his torch and shone it towards where the barely audible sounds were coming from. With a sharp intake of breath, he dropped the light and instinctively took a step backwards away from the threat. Something was standing only a few feet away from him, partially illuminated by the beam that was still haphazardly shining up from the fallen torch. It quietly regarded the young Marine from the undergrowth.
For a moment, he tried to rationalize what he was facing. The light reflected back at him from emerald green eyes and a mouth that opened periodically to expose a set of wickedly sharp teeth. The animal's slick black fur rippled and undulated as it continually shifted position, as if it was preparing to pounce. His eyes shot across to the rifle resting against a tree only a few feet away, but as he tensed, ready to move towards it, a deep and throaty growl issued forth from the creature's mouth. It continued to fix him with a hypnotic unblinking stare and when he again moved to retrieve his weapon, it issued a similar warning.
The young soldier's right hand settled on the pistol that was holstered at his belt. The intruder immediately seem to understand the gesture and then in an instant, it was gone, heading off at lightning speed, weaving in and out of the tightly packed beech and ash trees. Still shaking from the encounter, the Royal Marine finally retrieved his rifle and tried to figure out just what he was going to tell his fellow soldiers about the confrontation that had just taken place.
The Beast Of Exmoor
When the newspapers revealed in the summer of 1983 that members of one of Britain's most elite fighting forces have been posted to the middle of the countryside to hunt a big cat, the story was largely met with ridicule. This scathing attitude, however, was soon tempered, when the government confirmed that a small number of Royal Marines had indeed been deployed and that the situation was far from a laughing matter for the communities which had been affected.
Much like it's supernatural cousins, the beasts of Dartmoor and Bodmin, the first reports of a possible cryptozoological cat hunting in the fields in and around Exmoor emerged during the mid-1970s. Although sightings of other feline predators stalking the British Countryside greatly predate these two killers, with the first incidents being recorded while over a thousand years ago.
Welsh medieval poems make reference to a monstrous clawing cat, which was believed to hunt in the areas surrounding Anglesey, before it was slain by a heroic warrior named Cei. Later in the 1760s, the writer William Corbett described a number of encounters with a cat-like creature which resembled a lynx. On occasion, he observed it traversing the grounds of Waverly Abbey. These reports remain both sporadic and localized to the small rural areas where they occurred. But in the 1950s, encounters with what became known as 'Big Cats' became the subject of national interest. There was a rash of unrelated sightings right across the country, from panthers and tigers seen on the Scottish moorlands, to cheetahs and pumas encountered in the suburbs of the nation's capital.
One aspect of the big cat phenomenon that seems to set it aside from other strange tales within the United Kingdom, is that it has not died away with the advent of improvements in surveillance and communications technology. If anything, the number of sightings only seems to have increased as the size of Britain's rural population has steadily expanded.
Sightings of the Feline Cryptid
In August of 2000, an eleven year old boy named Josh Hopkins was playing hide and seek with his brother out in the fields near his home in Monmouthshire. He was crouching down in an area of long grass, when something large and black suddenly leapt out at him. The creature, which Josh described as leopard like in appearance, slashed his left cheek with its paw, leaving five deep and bloody claw marks. It then tried to drag him deeper into the undergrowth before the youngster was able to kick himself free and escape.
Five years later, the South East London borough of Sydenham was plagued by reports of a puma entering the gardens of residents and attacking family pets. When 36 year old resident Tony Holder found the beast in his backyard attacking his cat, he tried to shoo it away. His 11 year daughter would later describe how she watched on in horror, as the creature knocked her father to the ground and repeatedly slashed away at his face and upper body.
Despite the fact that he was six feet tall and weighed around 210 pounds, Holder was unable to fend off the attacker, which was only scared away by the sound of approaching police sirens. The creature was observed fleeing the address by two attending police officers and the paramedic, and was never seen in the area again.
Two years later, large feline paw prints were discovered near the mutilated bodies of a number of fully grown deer but have been killed on the grounds of Woodchester Park, in Gloucester. Although it is a nationwide phenomenon, the overwhelming majority of sightings of these creatures have occurred in the neighboring Southern counties of Devon and Cornwall, and continue to be an ongoing issue for the local police force there. A recent Freedom of Information request revealed that officers had attended the scenes of over 200 alleged big cat incidents in the last 15 years alone.
In October of 2016, the police were called out to reports that a lion had been seen at a clay pit located near the town of St Austell. The attending officers found paw prints that were over four inches wide pressed down into the wet clay, and the remains of a fully-grown dear nearby, which had been completely decapitated.
Three years later, in January of 2019, an even more grisly discovery awaited the local constable for the village of St Mabyn. Responding to a phone call from the landlord of the local bed and breakfast, the officer found a severed and bloody dog's hind leg lying discarded in the business owner's front garden. The incident coincided with a series of pet disappearances in the adjacent village of Harrowbarrow, where more large feline footprints have been discovered near the affected premises.
Then, on March the 28th, 23 year-old James Stephenson looked out of the kitchen window of his home in neighboring Callington and saw to his horror that the family's pet dog, Marley, was lying in the middle of the back garden covered in blood. When he ventured outside, he found that the Labrador was bleeding heavily from deep lacerations which had been inflicted to his back and hind legs. The following evening, whilst James was checking the garden for any trace of whatever had attacked Marley, there was a rustling sound in some nearby bushes.
As he watched in growing horror, a sleek black shape slowly emerged from the foliage, the light from his torch reflecting off a pair of luminous green eyes. James shouted angrily at the creature and waved his torch around in an attempt to scare it away. But the animal continued steadily towards him, emitting a low and throaty growl.
At this point, the young man lost his nerve and sprinted back inside, locking the door securely behind him. He then watched in astonishment as the predator paced back and forth in the garden for a few minutes, apparently unfazed by the bright security lights, which illuminated the scene. After some time, it finally slunk off as silently as it arrived.
Given the excessively high volume of big cat sightings which have been reported to the authorities, it is likely that a certain percentage of the incidents described are either fabricated or were the results of witnesses being deceived by hoaxers. But there is no denying that a significant number of domesticated animals have been killed over the years and injuries sustained by human victims are certainly not a product of the imagination.
This in itself is difficult to explain when one considers the fact that Britain, as a rule, does not have any particularly dangerous wildlife and certainly nothing that could claw and maul a dog as large as a Labrador to within inches of its life. As with similar mysterious and evasive cryptids such as the flying humanoids of South America, the big cat phenomenon is one that proves as frustrating to prove as it is to debunk.
Photographic evidence of reported encounters is nearly always of poor quality, with an undefined dark shape depicted from a distance and perspective which makes it impossible to achieve any sense of scale. Legends and tales of large and aggressive feline creatures can be traced back to every corner of the United Kingdom from the aforementioned beast of Anglesey, to the soul stealing Cat sith of Scotland. These mythical magical creatures often share similar characteristics to another long-standing Celtic legend: that of the ghostly black dog.
Shape-shifting dogs and hellhounds are a cornerstone of many ancient stories in British folklore. Covered in dark black fur, these monstrous apparitions were said to be the harbingers of death and emissaries of the Devil himself, sent to drag hapless victims down into the depths of hell. And to some commentators, the legend of the black cat has become linked to that of its canine predecessor. Some proponents of their existence even believe these big cats may be Supernatural, traveling through portals between different realms, much like the exotic wildlife spotted in other unassuming parts of the world where they wouldn't normally be seen.
But as the populations belief in magic and fantasy naturally declined as science and technology progressed, reports of ghostly black dogs also begun to fade away. Some analysts argue that those sightings have now been naturally replaced by encounters with inexplicable large predatory cats, explanations for which may have far more rational origins, but prove equally as difficult to resolve.
In his book Feral, writer Monbiot argues that humans are still hardwired to fear the appearance of feline creatures, due to the threat that animals such as lions, tigers and panthers have historically presented to previous generations. He theorizes that the human brain will sometimes misjudge the size of an unknown creature seen moving towards them from a distance, and naturally exaggerate the threat that the approaching animal represents to the observer.
The fact remains that there are no known breeds native to the shores of Great Britain, which match the detailed descriptions given by those who have allegedly encountered these creatures at close range. Is it possible that an unknown prehistoric species has somehow managed to survive and reproduce for centuries out in small isolated enclaves, continually managing to pass undetected?
While the idea of saber-toothed tigers and Neolithic panthers roaming wild in the Devonshire Countryside may seem somewhat fantastic, the natural world continues to find ways to subvert and surpass human preconceptions. In April 2002, for example, the headless carcass of three-foot-long cat-like animal was discovered lying at the side of the road in Boddam, on the northeastern coast of Scotland. Analysis of these remains by scientists at the University of Aberdeen found that the dead creature was actually a hybrid, similar to the native Kellas cat, which comprises elements of both domesticated cats and also a larger breed of wild cat. So perhaps the larger predators that are now venturing closer to Britain's urban areas are the evolutionary successors of a foreign species that was somehow introduced to the United Kingdom, which then went on to reproduce with native animals.
It is interesting to note that during the Victorian era, an unprecedented number of "Fantastic Beasts" were imported from the far reaches of the British Empire for the delight and satisfaction of the general public. By 1895, London itself possessed over 200 exotic animals shops. Reports of big cats suddenly exploded during the 1970s, at a time when the keeping of exotic animals as pets reached its peak.
The issue of deadly species being illicitly transported into the country for eager collectors prompted the government to pass the Dangerous Wild Animals Act in 1976, which is believed to have prompted some people to release their more problematic pet into the wild for fear of possible prosecution. When a mysterious Canadian lynx was shot and killed in mid Devon after killing local livestock, examination of the creature's teeth determined it had spent some time in captivity prior to being released into the wild.
Similarly, a puma captured by an Inverness farmer in 1980 was found to be highly domesticated, so much so that it would even allow its captors to pet it. Whilst to the inhabitants of other countries, the existence of unexpected predators in rural areas capable of killing cattle and the occasional unwary human being may be par for the course, the alleged sightings of big cats in the United Kingdom continue to fascinate the population. There is little doubt that there is a high degree of truth to many of the accounts that have been recorded, with inexplicably large paw prints, the remains of violently savaged animals, and sometimes even uncomfortable encounter with the killer creature itself.
Whether these mysterious invaders are simply a case of evolutionary superiority, or there is a more sinister and unearthly explanation for their existence remains to be seen. Just remember that if you find yourself alone out in the countryside of Great Britain, keep your wits and your running shoes to hand.