Thursday 25 September 2014

The beast of Svendroog Castle

The beast of Svendroog Castle - For those of you who followed 'big cat sightings back in the '60s and '70s, there was once much fervour and chaos created in the vicinity of Shooters Hill when it was claimed that a large cat was on the loose. Although the panic died down after a few weeks due to lack of evidence the area became cemented in big cat folklore. Of course, the best thing about such cat flaps (excuse the pun!) is when one still receives reports from these areas decades later.

This morning (25th September 2014) I received an interesting email from a lady who I had met many years ago whilst conducting a talk around that particular area. She had been walking with her husband on the morning of the 25th September 2014 near the ominous-sounding Svendroog Castle when they both observed a huge black cat sitting on its haunches and staring into a clump of undergrowth as if stalking rabbits, as a domestic cat would with mice. Now, when one considers that in 1963 it was rumoured - but completely false - that a cheetah was on the loose at Oxleas Wood - it was nice to hear that the couple had in fact observed a black leopard. The animal then quickly turned and disappeared into vegetation before the woman in question could get a photo.

I hope of course that this sighting will not urge some 126 policeman, armed with 21 dogs, an array of soldiers, RSPCA and ambulance staff to take to the woods as they did back in 1963. Amazing to think that these 'authoritative' figures covered over 800 acres in search of a creature that they knew nothing about, and was likely to have been a puma judging by reports so where the cheetah came into the affair is anybody's guess - although I have my theory, as mentioned briefly in my Mystery Animals of the British Isles: London book.

I am still amazed that authorities are called out to look into routine 'big cat' sightings and I do wonder as to why they pick and choose certain cases over others; after all; it's very rare for them to be called out to rescue a child from the jaws of a salivating leopard but now that I've dubbed this creature the 'beast of Svendroog castle' I'm sure the local populace will be having nightmares for weeks and keeping their pets...and children locked away as the curtain of dusk falls...mind you if one visits Svendroog Castle you could just imagine some strange lord of the manor keeping a leopard or two in his dank basement centuries ago. Photograph shows the hunt for the 'beast of Shooters Hill'.