Perhaps the most compelling piece of physical evidence to support the notion that big felids are indeed running wild in remote corners of Britain came to light the summer of 2001.
Journalist Ralph Barnett was driving on the quiet road between Aberdeen and Cupar. Coming round a corner, his headlights picked up the reflection from 2 eyes. Indeed, so bright was the reflection that at first he assumed it was actually an oncoming car some way away and dipped his lights in response. Only then did he realise that the eyes belonged to a large, dark-coloured cat, which sprang out of view within seconds, leaving behind the corpse of a roe deer on which it had evidently been feeding.
The police were called (and turned out in unusual numbers), photographs were taken and a detailed description made of the injuries sustained by the carcass.
The bulging, ruptured eyes, protruding tongue and parallel incisions in the neck indicated that the deer had been suffocated and apparently dragged to the middle of the road. The entire carcass was split open and eviscerated and one of its hind legs had been defleshed almost entirely.
All the signs point to a text-book kill by a big cat. No other kind of animal possibly found in Britain would have inflicted these injuries and the use of asphyxiation is purely the province of the big cats. Added together with the eyewitness sighting by Mr Barnett and there is little doubt that at some time in the preceding 2 days, this deer happened across a big cat and met its death.
As a side note: in some parts of the world, the ranges of roe deer and leopard overlap, and leopards can and do predate them - another compelling piece of circumstantial evidence.
As a counterpoint, reader Gary Mason suggests via the comments that the carcass is actually typical of poaching. Big cats, he suggests, do not eat their prey in the open and the evisceration of the Cupar carcass is perhaps more suggestive of opportunistic human hunting and butchering. You can see a photograph of a carcass he himself took in 2010 for comparison below.
As ever, I keep an open mind on such matters, but other photographs from the scene exist and appear to show a kill more in common with big cat activity than human hunting. The head in particular - with its bulging eyes and swollen tongue - indicates that the animal was killed by asphyxiation. Indeed, on the neck can be seen marks wholly consistent with either claws or teeth. In addition, the soft parts of the animal were consumed - the abdominal cavity having been emptied - again consistent with big cat depredation.
Of course, with scant photographic evidence all that remains it is now impossible to be certain what happened in 2001.
The case for a human kill
Reader Gary Mason has spent a good deal of time constructing an argument against the possibility of a big cat being involved here.
"the fact that the carcass was in the middle of the road suggests that it was dragged there"
I would say that it suggests that it was hit by a vehicle or
being gutted for transport at the side of the road.
In keeping with this the carcass had been eviscerated
This is almost a sure sign that it was not an ABC.
So, where were the viscera? And why is it all so clean? To me that looks as if it had been professionally gutted..This is the most suspicious observation. It makes no sense. The usual thing for a cat to do is to kill the deer and, before even starting to eat, move it to a place where the cat will not be disturbed. Yet this deer had been eviscerated, indicating that it had to be an older kill.
"The carcass was cold to the touch and without signs of decomposition and both Barnett and a police officer agreed that it had been dead for less than 48 hours."
A cat will take maybe 4 or 5 days to eat a deer. During that time, it will cover the deer as best it can and maybe move it 10 yards or so each day but not much more. It would have no reason to try to move an old kill across open farmland and a road.
"The tip of one of the antlers was broken off which would also be in keeping with the carcass having been dragged across the road surface"
Or hit by a vehicle. A big cat will take a kill this size and lift it by the neck with the head facing forwards. An antler will have no cause to break – it would be off the ground.
The entire carcass was split open along its ventral surface, the bones of its pelvis were partially dislocated and its left hindlimb was defleshed right down to the bones"
It sounds as if it were hit on the right side towards the rear leg. The defleshing of the left leg (and probably the broken antler were caused by friction with the road surface.
Its ribs had apparently been cleanly broken. A common injury when struck by a vehicle. The collapse of the ribs would also account for signs of asphyxiation when the integrity of the thorax was compromised.
Barnett reported that moist blood, tufts of deer hair and disturbed earth were present at the side of the road. This seems as if this were the place to look for viscera. And may be the place the deer finished after the accident.
Barnett was there for some time. He waited for the police to come. He didn't look for the viscera but he did look and saw a few tufts of hair.
If there had been a big cat. Would you have got out of your car and started taking photos of its kill? It strikes me that a sensible person would not. Big cats put a lot of effort into a kill and might put up a big fight rather than lose it.
Look at the photo showing the ribs and evisceration: You are a big cat, equipped with teeth and claws – how do you manage to keep the ribs unbroken and so clean and the line between the ribs and skin so straight? We expect to see loose flaps of skin, and, in the case of a mountain lion, the sternum broken – thus the chest to the line of the front legs should be exposed.
There’s another report with less personal detail, but it mentions the exact road at http://scotcats.online.fr/abc/...
Look on Google maps at the road.
Barnett's report says:
"On rounding a bend and coming out of a slight dip in the road, he switched his headlamps to full beam. What he took to be the headlamps of another car immediately ahead caused him to undertake an emergency stop, but it wasn’t a car in front of him, it was – so he reports – a big dark-coloured cat."
That road is wide enough to have a bus and a car pass easily – why did he need to stop?
Are the reflections in a big cat’s eyes anything like "headlamps"? No. Could they be mistaken for headlamps? No. The reflective cornea is no more than 2.5cm across. Would full beam headlamps immediately reveal the whole scene? Yes.
And have a look along that road going North to South. There is nowhere that I can see that fits the description. Bear in mind that the cat is not going to carry the eviscerated deer over walls and up and down ditches and over a fence.
There is a road accident in which the deer is hit on its side and right rear leg. There is internal damage, the ribs are broken, this causes it to be unable to breathe, and the hind leg receives trauma. The deer is sent flying damaging its antler.
The driver stops. He is in a substantial vehicle. The deer is dead. He thinks he will eviscerate the animal (This is relatively simple with even a basic knife) and take it home as compensation for the damage. For some reason he abandons the attempt. Perhaps it is too muddy on the verge and the meat is being spoiled. He moves it to the road – he sees the damaged hind leg he’s wary that there might be soil in it. He gives up.
Or He poaches the deer which he shoots on the road (illegal.) He pulls it to the side of the road and starts to work on it. Even late at night there is traffic and he has to hop over the wall and hide each time a vehicle comes. He has eviscerated it and returns to his vehicle which is parked somewhere off the road. The deer is still too heavy for him to pick up and put in his vehicle. He can drag it onto the road (and an antler breaks) He attempts to take the back haunch (hence the defleshing) but fails. He gives up and goes.
A largish domestic cat arrives. And so does Barnett.