The Wild Beast of Exmoor (and other places)

When I was a kid in primary school, way back in the early Eighties, in a town on the edge of Exmoor, stories started to appear in local and national media about a so-called “wild beast” that was savaging sheep and frightening people in some of the more isolated communities of the area. I even wrote a story, complete with my own gory illustrations, about some huntsmen who manage to track and kill it.

The beast itself was thought to be a large black cat, like a panther, and soon there were reports of its appearance – or something like it – in other moorland regions of the West Country, like Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor. Rewards were offered for killing or capturing the animal, and there was an official investigation into the attacks.

These stories eventually petered out, and nowadays you rarely hear about it, though I’m sure you can still find people who claim to have seen something strange one night while they were out walking their dog. Scientists investigating the phenomenon ultimately concluded that any sightings must have been of indigenous cats or large dogs turned into something more sinister by the imaginations of the onlookers.

What is undisputed is that sheep and other livestock were attacked, at one point in great number, and that a few years before the reports began the government passed the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976, requiring owners of exotic or dangerous pets to be properly licensed and insured. There has been speculation that, prior to the act coming into force, some owners may have surreptitiously released their animals into the British countryside, but I don’t suppose anyone is going to own up to it!

The Wild Beast of Exmoor (allegedly)


7 thoughts on “The Wild Beast of Exmoor (and other places)

    • Thank you! There aren’t any really dangerous wild animals left in Britain – the last wolves were hunted to extinction over three hundred years ago – so I guess people over here like to invent ones instead! Having said that, some want to see wolves reintroduced in Scotland, but unsurprisingly it remains a hugely controversial subject.

      • Oh, I can imagine. The ones still extant in the US are controversial too. Although we still have a selection of crazy beast stories, apparently there’s a chupacabra that supposedly abides down the street from a coworker’s house… 🙂

      • A chupacabra? Just had to look these critters up. I’d never heard of them before! Fascinating stuff. And a great example of how folklore is being recreated and reinvented all the time. Thank you!

  1. Grr, miss this blog when I’m away! Good to catch up though. Note to Hannah – I hadn’t heard of chupacabra either so thanks for that 🙂 I love these beast stories too – a mix of fact and fable. There’s definitely at least one large cat (panther probably) in Weald Country Park, it was released from a collection there along with some other animals but was never recaptured. There’s the occasional sighting and lovely deer carcasses to stumble upon and some folks even claimed to have seen it at our teabomb there recently!

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