Big Cats

There is a friend of the Geordie Ambassador’s who is an estate-man by profession (forestry and allied matters) who comes by from time to time to lend a much-needed hand with the neglected wood which forms part of our policies: the professional ruthlessness with which he cuts things down left us aghast at first but we are beginning to see the point. He was here last weekend and we got onto the topic of big cat sightings; to my amazement he told me that there was a colony of them in the woods he looks after — he shot one once in mistake for a fox, in the middle of the night; he saw a pair of yellow eyes reflecting light where he’d expected to find said fox and got the surprise of his life when he went to inspect. He brought us the pictures today — domestic cat it absolutely is not and even for a Scottish wildcat, you’d have to say that it is on the big side, the best part of three feet long, not including the tail, with an estimated weight 30lb or more and a huge, fierce, blunt head. It is certainly twice the length of the domestic cat which is also in the photo sniffing curiously at the corpse. The handsome beast is a striped tabby, rather than the mackerel-tabby of the Scottish wildcat as seen stuffed in museums, suggesting that some crossbreeding is taking place but that curiously, the result has got bigger rather than as logic would suggest, smaller.
Our friend the forester’s explanation for why the creatures are so peculiarly elusive was interesting: they are essentially arboreal, and when they are forced out of the trees, they have a strong dislike of leaving tracks: they keep off the ground as much as they can, and on the exceedingly rare occasions when he has seen one it has been using the top of a stone dike to get from one place to another. Hence dogs don’t necessarily know they’re there. He is also certain that they are exceedingly discreet in their habits, and live off wild rabbit, rather than raiding farmer’s fields for lambs, let alone sheep, which would in any case conflict with their extreme shyness and dislike of travelling along the ground. He had an interesting explanation for the aspect of Big Cat mythology which points to a half eaten sheep and says ‘look at that! Only a beast the size of a puma could have demolished this carcass!’ The answer he offers is foxes, about which he knows a great deal: a pair of foxes lucky enough to find a dead sheep will simply gorge themselves, track back to their earth, disgorge the contents of their stomachs, and go back again, for as many as four or five trips if they aren’t interrupted — they will then bury their winnings and live off them for days. The result, of course, is the impression of a huge animal’s having been at work. I think this is all fascinating. And I am happy to think that I am sharing Aberdeenshire with a colony of gigantic wildcats leading secretive lives up trees. But we won’t be telling Miss Dog; it would only worry her.

One Response to “Big Cats”

  1. Merrily Harpur Says:

    Hello Jane -
    Pat Kavanagh drew my attention to your fascinating site and this even more fascinating piece on the gigantic wildcat, because I am writing a book on big cats and she thought I should hear about this one.
    I have heard tell of these mighty wildcats - and indeed one was photographed in Devon of all places in 1982. Needless to say I am dying to see the photo you mention…any chance?
    All best,
    Merrily

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