Police called to investigate big cat sightings in Highlands after sheep carcass stripped to its skull and huge pawprintby Mike Merritt
A COP was sent to probe reports of a big cat prowling the Highlands and savaging livestock, newly released documents have found.
Sightings of puma and leopard-like creatures stalking Scottish hills and glens have been reported for decades but little evidence has been found.
Police officers and government scientists worked together to try to identify a “mystery predator” that appeared to be at large in the far north.
Correspondence from the past two years between Police Scotland, Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) and other government-funded agencies was released after a freedom of information request.
A police officer, whose name and title have been redacted, wrote to SASA in November 2018 asking for help in identifying a large paw print.
They wrote: “I’ve had lots of reports over the past three years of big cat sightings and activity on the north coast, mainly in the Bettyhill area of Sutherland.
“There have been sightings of a large feline and a lot of dead or injured sheep.
"On one occasion I was present when a ewe was brought in off the hill with two puncture marks on the front of her right shoulder and two at the back of it.
"The wounds were over three inches apart, while some of the recent carcasses have very large puncture marks.”
The officer conceded that it was a “very controversial topic” but added: “Some crofters say there have always been very big feral cats in this area.
"I’m told there is a photograph of one shot, years ago, which was over four feet long.
“We definitely have a wild cat population as well; I’ve seen one myself.
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"We don’t have many domestic cats in the area; there is a very sparse human population and miles of unoccupied land.”
The officer sent images of a paw print and one of a “recent kill”, writing: “The carcass was stripped clean, down to the spine/skull.”
They said that the paw print was 7cm long and 6cm wide, adding: “I'm inclined to think it might be a cat.”
The response from the SASA was inconclusive. They replied: “I’m not sure about the footprint.
"It does look a bit like a feline print but is also reminiscent of a fox or a dog.”
There was more clarity relating to an image of a dismembered fox sent to the SASA last December.
An official said: “I would guess it has been scavenged by a number of animals, the main culprits are probably a group of several badgers.”
The investigation was closed last year.
The carcass was stripped clean, down to the spine/skull
In 2010, Police issued a warning to the public after reports of big cats in Easter Ross and Sutherland.
A "large panther-type" cat was spotted walking near Dornoch's caravan park and golf course.
Another member of the public spotted what they described as a "very large, muscular black cat with a square head" in the Fendon area of Tain the previous week.
In July that year, a "very large black cat" was seen by a member of the public in woodland at Inshriach, Kincraig.
A Police Scotland spokesman said at the time it was unusual to have sightings so close together.
He said the witnesses were different people and credible.
The first sighting was near a military bombing range and the animal disappeared from view when it entered thick gorse.
The Bettyhill area has been the centre of previous big cat sightings between between 1976 and 1981.
Back in 2018, a teenager caused panic in Ayrshire after using a laser cutter to create a metal panther, which he then stuck in a field.
Robbie Brown, then 18, posted snaps on social media, which were shared hundreds of times, after a big animal was spotted near Sinclairston.
Police received a call about the hoax cat - and even sent out a helicopter with thermal imaging equipment to try and trace it.
Plans to release the Eurasian lynx into a 147-square-mile area of the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park near Loch Lomond are being considered by NatureScot.
The animals were hunted to extinction in the UK more than 1,300 years ago.