It appears that the UK’s famed Beast of Bodmin Moor might have stiff competition from a new Spanish rival roaming the hills of Berja in Andalusia, southern Spain. Sighted by local almond farmers and several members of the public, the Beast of Berja is thought to resemble a black panther that also prowls the Sierra Nevada National Park area, a popular spot for tourists.
Night vision cameras and image intensifying equipment are being used for tracking and cages have been rigged up containing meat in the hope of trapping the creature. So far only a startled fox and an indignant domestic cat have been caught so one has to wonder whether it really is a panther at all or just the product of an over zealous imagination.
In the UK, there was much hysteria some years ago when people in Wiltshire claimed to have seen a giant black cat roaming about the countryside. It was quickly given the sobriquet Beast of Trowbridge and to the best of my knowledge has never been discovered. Every year a few trophy hunters will produce a grainy photo of what they believe to be the wild cat but most bear an uncanny resemblance to black dogs. Lest we forget that panic once gripped the heart of the good folk of Essex when a lion was purported to be on the prowl near Clacton-on-Sea of all places. After armed response units and police helicopters were drafted into the area, it transpired that the ‘lion’ was in reality a fluffy three-year-old Maine Coon cat that went by the name of Teddy Bear.
There were also images taken by enthusiasts of a giant black feline lurking in the Bristol area while sightings of the Beast of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall were verified by no less than 60 individuals. Most recently Sir Benjamin Slade and members of his staff at Maunsel House in North Norton,Somerset claimed to have seen a giant black cat lurking in nearby forestland and erected posters warning visitors of its existence.
It is of course quite feasible that when the Dangerous Animals Act was introduced in 1976 many owners of non-indigenous mammals let their exotic pets loose in British forestland. In the case of Spain’s own Beast of Berja, it is believed that the panther like creature might indeed be an exotic pet illegally acquired and abandoned by its owner. Here in Majorca the only wild cat in evidence is the shy African mountain cat, and it’s nigh impossible to get a glimpse of it unless one’s very lucky.
I feel some sympathy for any retiring big feline in the Spanish or English countryside that suddenly finds itself the subject of a major police alert. It must wonder who or what put the cat among the pigeons when all it wanted was to go quietly about its business. I just hope that the Beast of Berja learns from its counterparts in the UK and maintains a low profile in the Sierra Nevada hills. It should not venture out at all costs, remembering that wise adage about curiosity killing the cat.
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