Mystery Animals of The Lothians

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Sightings of out-of-place big cats, like pumas and black panthers, are frequently reported in the Lothians and Edinburgh. SCOTT LYAL, creator of Wulverstanezine and contributor to Tales from the Crypts of Auld Reekie, tells us why

Mystery Animals of The Lothians

Scott Lyal is the creator of the Wulverstanezine publication. His fanzine features articles on forteana and other mysterious phenomena. Scott has contributed two chapters to the brand new book, Tales from the Crypts of Auld Reekie, by John Tantalon. Today, he relays stories of ‘Mystery Animals of the Lothians’.

The most commonly reported anomalous creatures, both within the Lothians and the UK in general, are out-of-place big cats, often referred to as alien big cats (alien in the sense of out of place rather than extra terrestrial), shortened to ABC. Probably the area locally with most sightings is the Pentland hills, with there being numerous sightings of both puma and black panther type cats. For example, a Mrs McK. of Penicuik noted the following sighting on 16th May 1982:

“I was out walking with my husband and children along the disused railway track near Penicuik. I was on a part of the track which has a hill running up to my left, when I saw what I at first took to be a lioness, the animal I saw was roughly the same size and colour with a long tail. I could not believe my eyes and studied the animal as closely as possible. It was about 4pm on a bright warm afternoon, so there was good light, and the vegetation on the hill was still fairly low.

“The animal, which I now believe to be a puma was prowling about on the hillside, it appeared to be calm. It was most definitely of the big-cat family. My husband also saw the animal, but he did not stop as long as I did, for fear of alarming the children. I watched the puma for perhaps five to ten minutes, partly to convince myself that what I was seeing was really there, and partly to see what it did. It continued to prowl about in one small area and appeared not to notice us on the path below. When we returned along the same path about one hour later there was no sign of the puma.” 

The Pentland hills combine moorland and upland farming with patches of woodland, and is popular with runners, dogwalkers and hikers so has both an environment in which a big cat could survive, while there would certainly be people around to observe them. Taking another example:

A jogger today described how he came face-to-face with a black panther on a lonely track in the Pentland Hills. John Hope froze when he spotted the creature walk onto the track in front of him. He then watched as it sniffed the air for an instant before leaping into a ditch and disappearing without a sound into a thicket.

Mr. Hope of Colinton, Edinburgh, said: “I have seen a lot of animals when I have been out running on the moors, but never anything as strange as this.”

Keen fell-runner Mr. Hope said: “It was definitely a big cat, about the size of an Alsatian dog. I saw it from about 75 yards away, and it didn’t see me. It was a majestic creature. I must admit it was slightly frightening – but I also felt exhilaration.”

Mr. Hope’s encounter, near the Balerno SSPCA Centre, comes after a rash of sightings this year. SSPCA chief inspector John Wilson said: “There is no doubt there is something up there. People should take extra care in the hills. They should keep their dogs on leads, because dogs could be food for panthers.” 

Interestingly, during a spate of sightings of a tawny-coloured big cat in the Penicuik area in the mid 90s, one witness claimed what he saw wasn’t a puma, but a baboon.

Rural East and West Lothian also have their share of sightings. Both areas have had sightings of the puma and black panther types. This is a common pattern of ABC reports in general, with the bulk being of these two types, with a similar number describing lynx-like animals with tufted ears, and a much smaller number describing lions, tigers or other cats. Given the range of big cats, it’s quite possible the same animals are ranging from West Lothian, through the Pentlands and into East Lothian. 

Giving another illustrative example of reports from the area:

A panther is being blamed for attacks which left horses bitten and gouged. Owner Helen Smith said her animals were injured after she spotted a big cat on the prowl at her farm. She says the beast is bigger than her dogs – huge bullmastiff-Rhodesian ridgeback crosses. Helen, 55, said: “This was a muscle machine with claws and teeth. “It was black with beautiful emerald, green eyes. After researching it, I believe it is a panther.” 

Scott Lyal, centre, with fellow contributors to Tales from the Crypts of Auld Reekie
Scott Lyal, centre, with fellow contributors to Tales from the Crypts of Auld Reekie

It’s worth noting that there’s been a fair few reports from the Bathgate hills, which have been the site of various other high strange reports such as UFOs, zoomorphic phenomena (see below), black helicopter sightings and more.

Given the widespread nature of the ABC phenomena, reports are perhaps to be expected from areas like the Pentlands given how lonely they can be despite their proximity to Edinburgh. What is more unexpected is that there are a number of reports from Edinburgh itself. Sightings on record include one made by a police helicopter crew searching for a missing woman on Arthur’s Seat, who picked up the heat signature of what the believed to be a big cat, possibly a puma. 

Newhaven, in the north of the city, has also produced sightings, with some residents convinced the creature had left footprints.

Residents of Newhaven have been left feline distinctly uncomfortable after the discovery of huge paw prints in the snow. They believe an animal – like a puma or lynx – may be behind the tracks and experts say it is possible the mystery cats may be venturing into the Capital to search for food.

Nora Robertson, 81, who has lived in the area since childhood, discovered the prints on an early morning walk near her home in Andrew Wood Court. It was still dark so I had my torch with me, and the light reflected off one of these large prints, I followed the track all the way to my neighbour’s garden, which showed it had jumped up over a wall. I’ve never seen anything like this. We get a lot of foxes around here and there is a lot of woodland and unused paths.”

Maureen Porteous, 71, said she spotted a large cat in her garden during the summer, but did not think much of it until seeing the tracks. “I just don’t know, it all seems strange, and these prints are certainly much bigger than a normal cat,” she said. “Last summer I looked out to the garden and caught sight of a really big cat but forgot about it until now. My own cat has also been behaving strangely over the weekend, it’s never been away from the window but won’t go out, which is unusual. It’s as if something’s really spooked it.” 

There have been sightings from locations like Corstorphine Hill, which could conceivably provide food and cover for a transient ABC, some other locations that have generated sightings are harder to imagine harbouring a wild animal such as the Tower Street industrial estate in Leith. However, in the 1970s, Leith did genuinely have its own big cat.

A pub called Fairley’s in Commercial Street had a big cat in a cage. There seems to be differing opinions on what type of cat it was- various accounts say puma, black panther, or black puma (which are so rare so to be almost unknown), but all accounts agree that it was kept in a cage on the end of the bar, and was not a friendly beast. The landlord was made to get rid of it by the police after it attacked someone. The fate of the poor cat is not known. 

One of the main theories to explain the presence of big cats in the British countryside is that they were pets abandoned in the wake of the introduction of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976, which introduced much stricter controls on the keeping of wild animals. Prior to this, it was easy to keep wild animals with minimal restrictions. The theory goes that some people released their animals rather than pay for the license and appropriate enclosures, and it’s their descendant’s people are seeing today.

Tell us your thoughts about this article in the comments section.

SCOTT LYAL is the creator of Wulzerstanezine.

Tales from the Crypts

Tales from the Crypts of Auld Reekie by John S. Tantalon, including a contribution by Scott Lyal, from Saber Press, is available from North Edinburgh Nightmares website and Amazon.

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