Bodmin's cat myth lives on

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The Independent Online
The Ministry of Agriculture said yesterday that it could find no evidence to support the notion that big cats stalk Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, killing and eating livestock.

Angela Browning, a junior agriculture minister, told a press conference that a six-month investigation prompted by years of sightings of black pumas, panthers and leopards had found no evidence of big cat kills.

Furthermore, Ministry of Agriculture experts say the video footage and photographs which purport to show big cats on the Moor are actually showing ordinary domestic cats.

But those who claim to have seen the "Beast of Bodmin" or found their farm animals dead and mutilated, were unconvinced by the ministry's findings.

Mrs Browning, who wore a large cat-shaped brooch at the press conference, said only four livestock deaths occurred during the six months and none gave any hint of big cat involvement.

''This clearly indicates that there is not a serious threat to livestock in the area," she said. "As a result the ministry will not be taking any further action following this investigation.''

But, she added, any future suspicious deaths of livestock notified to the ministry "will be investigated in the normal way".

Rosemary Rhodes, a landowner of Ninestones on Bolventor, has sold her sheep because she claims they were stalked by a black panther. "Everybody in the country will think we have been suffering from some kind of mass hallucination," she said. "But one day, there is an outside chance somebody is going to get hurt.

"Every now and then I think I have imagined seeing the big cats but then I catch another glimpse and know I've been right all along."

Her neighbours, Richard and John Goodenough, have farmed on Bodmin Moor for the last 30 years and lost 14 sheep to mystery killings. Richard, aged 42, said yesterday: ''I have seen it four times. There were two sightings of a black leopard and two of a black puma.''

North Cornwall Liberal Democrat MP Paul Tyler said: "If the 'Sherlock Holmes' team from the ministry think they have dispelled the mystery, I think they have another thing coming. A lot of people I meet and whose word I trust say 'yes there is something there'."

The investigation by two experts from ADAS, the ministry's advisory service, took 26 days and cost pounds 8,200.

They attributed all the footprints they found to dogs and cats. Of the four sheep and lamb carcasses they examined on the moor, one was unmarked and unbruised and appeared to have died of starvation.

Another appeared to have suffered from severe footrot and been bitten by a large dog. Two dead ewes showed evidence of having been partially eaten by badgers and foxes, but there was no evidence that they had been killed by a large cat.

A MAFF cover-up? page 15