South Wales has never been short of Alien Big Cat sightings, says CLAIRE BARRAND
Through history, cats, especially black cats have held their place firmly in superstition and folklore around the world.
In Wales, the Celtic lore surrounding black cats has been no different, and there were many theories and misconceptions associated with fearsome felines.
I found an extraordinary story of a woman living in England’s Cannock Chase in 1989, who claimed to have seen, in 1989, a huge black cat, as she took a stroll on a hot, summer’s day.
She almost literally walked into the alien big cat as she headed along a well-worn track near the village of Milford.
Incredibly, the woman claimed that as the two stood staring at each other (she was, unsurprisingly, frozen to the spot in terror), the cat transformed into the form of a huge black dog.
It glared at her for a moment and then walked off and vanished into the undergrowth.
Britain, especially Wales, has a centuries-old tradition of paranormal black dog folklore.
In modern society, however, we are thankfully better educated, and most people no longer fear black cats.
However, they do still get a poor deal.
In rescue centres, black cats are sadly often the ones left behind and waiting longer for a home.
Stories of big cats lurking in the countryside in recent years have sensationalised newspapers and local gossip circles.
But are these stories just a modern version of feline folklore or could there really be huge creatures terrifying locals, attacking livestock and launching attacks on humans?
I had a memorable encounter myself many years ago, in my own garden one night during the early 1990s.
A low, guttural snarl rattled behind the hedge, not three ft away from me and turned my blood cold.
At the time, a large black cat had been spotted around the lower village common and dubbed “The Beast of Gilwern” by locals.
When Craig Titchener of Facebook’s’ popular community page “Abergavenny Voice” contacted me and told me he also remembered the sightings, I was compelled to research further and found numerous stories associated with strange sightings of big cats in Wales.
Gwent was once nicknamed the “big cat capital of the UK” at the time with numerous sightings being recorded in Hafodyrynys, Blaenavon, Goldcliffe and the Monmouth area over the course of a few years.
Alient big cat seen roaming in Brynmawr
On 1 April 2004, the South Wales Argus reported that police were called after a man claimed he saw a big cat roaming in Brynmawr.
The motorist called police as he drove along the A465 Heads of the Valleys Road.
He recalled that the animal was a large, sleek cat with a shiny coat and yellow eyes and was walking along the side of the road at 3.40am on Monday.
As the motorist passed the cat, he said it ran into a nearby field and out of sight. Police went to the area but were unable to trace the animal.
Big cat expert Danny Nineham said at the time: “That sounds like the Brynmawr big cat that was prowling around the industrial estate last summer.
“Tracks were found in the mud, and a worker saw the big cat walking around a perimeter fence, but I haven’t had any reports of it for several months now. It is probably a black leopard, which can grow more than eight foot from the nose to the tip of the tail.”
Mr Nineham added: “There are hundreds of these cats in the wild and I have calls about them from all over the UK on a weekly basis.”
A man from Goytre made a plaster cast of what he believed was a big cat’s footprint on the mountains between Blaenavon and Abergavenny.
Kevin Phillips told the papers at the time: “Last year a couple of my sheep were found mutilated on the mountain, and I was sure that it was a big cat.”
The plot thickened after he discovered footprints in the snow.
“I noticed these prints were about four inches by three inches and straight away thought that they could be from a panther or similar type of predator.”
Mr Phillips followed the prints until they reached tunnels in the mountainside… where they stopped.
“I definitely think this is a panther-like creature,” he concluded.
Other alleged sightings include the disturbing story of eleven-year-old Josh Hopkins, who was allegedly attacked by a big cat near his home in Trellech, near Monmouth, in 2000.
The poor boy was slashed across the face by the sharp claws of what he described as a black leopard as he searched for his lost pet cat.
Gwent police using marksmen equipped with infra-red lights mounted in a helicopter search failed to find the creature which left vivid claw marks on the boy’s right cheek.
In July 2002 the so-called Beast of Trellech was spotted at the top car park at Trellech Primary School.
In fact, there were so many sightings of big cats across Wales during that period, that Swansea University began to research and collected more than 70 big cat encounters in South Wales within its first year.
Some further sightings include:
- Beast of Bont: The alleged killer puma, is said to have mutilated 50 sheep in Pontrhydfendigaid, near Aberystwyth, since 1995.
- Beast of Tonmawr: Scared residents, claimed a large cat screamed and growled at them in the Afan/Neath Forest area. London Zoo officials identified the creature as a North American jungle cat after a plaster cast was taken from paw prints.
- Carmarthen Cats: Experts held responsible the death of lambs on a farm in Whitemill to a family of pumas.
- Powys Puma: Four sheep were killed on a farm in Llangurig in 1980, police marksmen and RSPCA officials surrounded the creature in a barn, but it slipped out of a rear exit.
- Beast of Bala: It killed lambs on a farm in Llanuwchllyn in 1995 and was shot by a farmer. It turned out to be a pet lemur.
- Beast of Bont, Mark II: Police performed a helicopter search for a vicious creature which terrified two 10-year-old boys in Pontarddulais, near Swansea.
- Felingwm foal attack: In 1997, a creature said to resemble a “cat-like beast” attacked a foal in Felingwm, Carmarthen.
- Margam Monster: Farmers staged a 24-hour armed guard in the fields after a creature was reported to have killed sheep. Anxious parents were required to provide their children with chaperones to school.
- Pontsticill Puma: A farmer reported coming within 12 ft of a three-foot-long cat which he described as “sleek and glossy.”
- Bryngarw Beast: In 1983, a motorist spotted a large cat in his headlights while driving through Bryngarw near Croesyceiliog, Cwmbran.
- Beast of Boncath: A sighting of a large cat in Llangoedmor, near Boncath, Pembrokeshire, in January 1996.
On 17th May 2009, the Daily Star reported:
Shocking figures leaked to us show sleepy Aberystwyth has seen more attacks by the beasts than anywhere else. Black panthers, pumas, and lynx are all thought to be roaming free – and breeding – in remote rural locations. And 34 of 39 suspected big cat kills probed by the Government in the last ten years were in the Aberystwyth area. Just last month the Veterinary Laboratories Agency – responsible for postmortems on big cat kills – said a calf attacked there in March had its ribs splintered by a large mammal. Since 1998 the agency has also studied the carcasses of 15 lambs, 19 sheep, a dog and a fox – all thought to have fallen prey to big foreign cats.
Most sightings in Wales are attributed to panthers, which are capable of killing animals as big as a horse. Experts think they were released in the 1970’s and have now formed breeding populations in sparsely populated areas like rural Wales.
There is evidence big cats are out there
Dr. Dan Forman, a carnivore biologist from Swansea University, said he had “relatively conclusive” evidence big cats were out there. And he said they were being helped by the climate and rugged terrain around Aberystwyth.”
Another story I came across was that of home help Michael Sheppard, 62, was called one day by neighbour 90-year- old Joan Reynolds, who was worried that she had not seen her dogs, whippet Peter, or Bedlington terrier, Jason, for some time.
“Mr. Sheppard drove to Mrs. Reynolds’s farmhouse near Llangadog, searched the farm with his torch and was confronted by a petrifying sight. ‘I found Peter lying on the ground and standing above him was a huge, jet-black animal with blood all over its face,’ he recalled.
‘Standing a little further back was another, smaller cat. The adult hissed at me, and that was pretty frightening. I ran back to the house and called the police straight away.’ Peter had had his throat ripped out, but Jason was found hiding behind a shed. Police arrived just in time for one officer to see the silhouette of one of the cats disappearing into the darkness.
In the early hours of Wednesday, a lorry driver saw a big cat picked out by his headlights at the Associated Co-operative Creamery in Llangadog, not far from Mrs. Reynolds’s farm. Again, police arrived too late to catch the animal.”
Then, shockingly another sighting came the following day, when a driver from another dairy saw a large black cat on the edge of woodland at Ffairfach, ten miles from Llangadog.
The introduction of the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act was held responsible for the increase in big cats. It required the owners of exotic cats to have licenses – prompting many to dump their pets. It is now a popular theory that the animals are all over the United Kingdom and may even have crossbred, creating new species.
National Farmer Union concerned about big cats
The National Farmers Union of Wales confesses big cats are “a serious issue” for its members.
But some people accuse the press of whipping up hysteria over the sightings, and it is right to say that reports over the last few years have lessened but is this a fair representation of the sightings that still go on today, and are they still happening, but just not popular news stories anymore?
A man from Monmouth reported seeing two black cats at around 4.30pm in Vauxhall Fields, which is relatively close to the town center. He said he was about 100 yards away and they looked like lynx and were about the size of a Dobermann. The three of them all just stood looking at each other for quite a long time, before the cats disappeared into the undergrowth.
Several reports also told of a black panther-type creature that had been spotted in and around the town – dubbed the ‘Beast of Blaenavon’.
Gerry Woodhouse, from Brankleys Houses, off Llanover Road, saw a panther-like creature walk along his garden wall.
His partner, Susan Fiander, 40, said they believe that on the Saturday morning, while they were away from home, the beast returned and slaughtered a goose, chicken and two ducks they kept as pets in their back garden.
Big cats cause ‘absolute carnage’
She said: “There was absolute carnage and we believe there is a savage cat out there. “About six weeks ago, one of our geese just disappeared, and we’ve got a four-foot wall surrounding the property which would make it impossible for a fox to have taken it.
“I’m worried for the safety of people, particularly children, and especially with summer holidays approaching.”
Ms. Fiander believes the remainder of her animals were saved from being wiped out by the intervention of her next-door neighbour’s female rough collie who broke out of its fenced kennel.
Breeze, aged five, who is owned by 49-year-old Paul Teague, may well have come face-to-face with the beast.
He said: “Something definitely spooked her and there was something very big in here. I think there is a genuine cause for concern and the matter should be taken seriously”.
Ian Parfitt, aged 48, from Cwmavon Road, said he was shocked to see a big cat he believed to be a black panther jump out of a skip as he walked near Blaenavon leisure centre at around midnight a few weeks ago.
He said the animal had a body which was about four feet long – a description which is consistent with most sightings.
PC Gary Lawrence, from Blaenavon police station, said: “We are taking the matter very seriously as we’ve had several reliable sightings in recent weeks.”
In another sighting, a photographer produced a picture which he claims shows a black panther in woodland outside Cwmbran
Norman Evans’ shot was taken just 25 feet away from the beast, he claims, and today Gwent Police issued a warning to local people not to approach the cat if they see it.
“This isn’t more than a mile from peoples’ homes and just three from the centre of town,” said the 43-year-old amateur photographer from Upper Cwmbran.
Fears that big cats are on the loose in Gwent were reignited by a further sighting near Abergavenny.
Just three days after the Argus reported how police officers spotted two panthers near Goldcliff, Newport, a woman says she saw a big black cat and a cub from her Dan-y-Deri home.
Jeanette Fletcher, 56, was decorating her first-floor bedroom at 6pm on Friday when she was amazed to see what she believes was a panther and a cub.
Mrs. Fletcher said: “I was finishing up decorating when my son came in from work, we were talking when I looked towards the Deri mountain. About one-and-a-half fields away I saw a large black cat the size of a big dog walking very low to the ground.
“Behind it, there was a black cub. I shouted for my son to look but by the time he was looking in the right place the pair had disappeared behind a stand of trees.
“We waited for them to come out the other side but they never did. My son wanted to go out and look for them, but I wouldn’t let him.”
Police went to the scene but did not see anything unusual. Abergavenny police officer Peter Tkaczyk said: “We are asking local people to be vigilant.”
A Pontypool man was enjoying a walk with his family spotted a big black cat – and he was convinced it was pregnant.
Nigel James, of Festival Crescent, spotted the creature at Coedalice Woods, near West Mons School and Pontypool College.
He was walking with his wife Maxine, daughters Bethan, 11, Megan, six, son Rhys, four, and a neighbour’s daughter.
Mr. James, 36, said: “As I was going over a stile I saw it walking from a pile of logs towards a darker part of the woods.
“It definitely wasn’t a domestic cat and was much bigger and powerful looking. It was about three feet in length, and it was quite high off the ground. It was swollen and looked pregnant.
“It walked in a straight line in front of us for about thirty seconds and then wandered into the woods. The kids were screaming and shouting. We wondered where it went and had a quick look, but we couldn’t see it as it was too dark in the woods.”
Mrs. James said: “We weren’t scared, we were more shocked by how big it was. I’ve never seen anything like it, not even at the zoo. It could probably bite or give you a nasty slash, but it didn’t look big enough to kill you.”
During the stylish 1960s and 70s, it was the trend and perfectly legal in the UK to keep exotic animals as household pets, these ranged from leopards, pumas, and panthers to crocodiles and poisonous snakes.
In 1976, the Government introduced the Dangerous Wild Animals Act to protect the public and ensure the animals were looked after properly.
When the bill came into force exotic pet owners, we’re only really faced with 3 choices. Get a license and improve the facilities for looking after the animals incurring significant expense. Give their pet to a zoo or authorized keeper of such animals. . . Or have their pet put down.
Why so many alien big cats in Wales?
Many owners gave their pets up to local zoos and wildlife parks, but with the number of animals around the zoos and other establishments couldn’t cope with the numbers, so many unfortunately were put down. A minority of owners, however, set them free to fend for themselves in the wild, and this is possibly how the majority of Big Cats got into the UK countryside, apparently there is the possibility of zoo and circus escapees but being released from captivity is the most likely source for most of the big cats roaming the UK.
According to website UK Big Cats, due to a loophole in the law, it was not illegal until 1981 to release a big cat into the UK countryside. So many owners despite introducing a new non-native species didn’t actually break the law. A legal owner of a Big Cat in the UK does not by law have to inform anyone if one of their animals escapes or dies, nor do they have to notify the Authorities if they breed in captivity, so the exact number of Big Cats in this country is tough to estimate.
Cats in Celtic Folklore
Black cats were often used in witchcraft spells, often these practices involved specific organs of a cat or rituals involving black cats, to stop evil spirits bothering humans. Cats were feared and black cats thought to be vengeful and so great care was taken not to offend them. Often they were associated with shape-shifting demons or an evil fairy or the devil himself.
Cats and Ghosts
In more modern folklore, cats were associated with ghosts and demons. In one poltergeist account, an apparition of a cat with a man’s head was said to have been seen just before a bed was set on fire and the ghoulish creature vanished.
Whether or not these sightings of black cats are of phantom/alien creatures, real live creatures or are cases of mistaken identity, or greatly exaggerated stories fuelled by fear, and superstition, the one consistent theme that runs through all these tales is that cats have a mysterious high power that we as humans find intriguing.