Author: By Cordelia O’Neill, Press Association
Dog handler Chris Swallow, based in Faslane on the Clyde, said he saw a large
black cat on a nearby railway line.
Pc Swallow initially believed he was looking at a Labrador dog crossing
railway tracks from a friend’s garden on the Churchill Estate in Helensburgh
on 30 June.
But on closer inspection he said he became convinced he had seen one of the
mysterious big cats which reportedly roam the UK.
“I ran to my car to grab my mobile phone for a picture. I stood on the nearby
rail bridge in Winston Road and got a still photo and a couple of minutes of
footage of the animal moving up the railway line,” he said.
“It was remarkable. I’ve heard stories about creatures like this moving about
the countryside but never really believed them before.
“Looking back at the video I don’t think there’s any doubt that it’s a big
Big cats have been seen in the area before, with several reports of a large
tan-coloured creature – the “Coulport Cougar” – in the woods and hills of
Loch Long in Portincaple, Whistlefield, in 2004.
John Belshaw, HM Naval Base Clyde’s pest control officer, said he was
contacted by police in 2007 about the sightings.
“They asked me what I thought about the stories of big cats in the area and
then told me they had seen one cross the road in front of them during the
night,” he said.
“I think they were quite shaken by the whole experience and wanted
“I have had a look at Chris’s footage and have to say that I do not believe it
is a domestic cat or a dog.
“At one point in the video it seems to walk on the railway line and a dog
simply wouldn’t have had the balance to do this.
“You can tell from the size of the track that it is much larger than a house
The naval base animal is just the latest in a long line of sightings of big
cats in the UK – Cath Palug reportedly roamed Anglesey in the Middle Ages
and sightings of the Beast of Bodmin have been regularly reported since the
Most wild cat sightings have been assumed to be panthers, with a handful of
reports assumed to be the lynx – a big cat once native in this country.
Their existence in the wild has been accredited to a range of sources, from
escaped zoo and circus animals to a mass release in the 1970s after the
enforcement of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act.
Shaun Stevens, a researcher for Big Cats In Britain, a group which
investigates animals roaming the British countryside, said the animal
visible in Pc Swallow’s photographs is “certainly not a domestic cat”,
adding that Argyle “appears to be a favourite haunt” of big cats.
The group hears of about 30 reported sightings of such animals in the area
“I have a working theory that some of these cats may be a hybrid species or
possibly a new species of cat,” he said.
“Knowing that the width of the rail tracks in Chris’s video is four feet,
eight and a half inches, the animal photographed by him is clearly in excess
of four feet.
“Initial first impressions are very exciting, as I think this could be one of
the best pieces of footage of a big cat in the UK.”
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