Boffins hunt the Beast of Bodmin

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Not since Sherlock Holmes tracked down the Hound of the Baskervilles has there been the prospect of such a chase.

Ministry of Agriculture boffins, sans deerstalkers but occasionally armed with magnifying glasses, will track another monster which has been terrorising moorland animals for more than 10 years.

The purpose of the chase, announced yesterday, is to establish whether the cat-like Beast of Bodmin Moor really exists.

Until now, despite numerous sightings, the mauled carcasses of calves and lambs and photographic evidence, the Beast has been regarded by many as a hardy silly season story. But it became semi-official yesterday.

Angela Browning, parliamentary secretary at the ministry and MP for Tiverton, was stung into action. A team of advisers, led by Simon Baker, a wildlife consultant, would, she said, spend 26 staff-days and £8,200 examining the evidence,comparing tracks with casts taken from big cats in zoos.

Paul Tyler, MP for North Cornwall, welcomed the study. "The so-called Beast may well be several wild pumas,"he said. "The last thing we need is for farmers to take the law into their own hands: a posse of would-be big game hunters could be even more dangerous."