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)