Claws are out for the Beast of Bont

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The Independent Online
A mysterious predator is stalking the sparsely populated mid-Wales countryside and spread- ing alarm among farming communities.

The beast kills stock swiftly and savagely, making off speedily once it has completed its work. Sheep carcasses bear testimony to the predator, which is variously described as a puma or leopard.

It is known throughout the rural county of Ceredigion as the Beast of Bont; the name is derived from the name of the village, Pontrhydfendigaid, which is at the centre of the animal's hunting area.

Its attacks come at the height of the lambing season. Farmers like Ednyfed Jones work round the clock, keeping a watch over their flocks with more than usual concern, often with a shotgun not far away.

"I've lost six sheep - clawed by a big cat-like animal. One was half- dead. We had to put it down. Its ribs were smashed and there was a huge hole in its back. No fox could do that," Mr Jones, 33, who farms near by, said yesterday.

Alex Truss, the teenage son of the village postmistress, spotted the Beast at twilight on the outskirts of the settlement.

"It took off at a tremendous rate, the back legs coming in front of the front legs," he said. That bounding action is familiar to television viewers of African wildlife programmes.

Shepherd Aza Pinney cannot recall anything similar since he began patrolling the remote mountains more than a decade ago.

At first, some dismissed the affair as a hoax, perpetrated after an evening's drinking. The doubters were silenced as the number of sightings grew. Then Ministry of Agriculture vets at Aberystwyth, the "capital" of one of Britain's most sparsely populated areas, examined a sheep carcass and declared that the killer was a deal more powerful than a fox or rogue dog. Normally the Beast devours its prey, leaving only bones and scrapes of wool as evidence.

It is proving difficult to track down the Beast. More than 100 square miles of hilly terrain are intersected by large tracts of forest, offering numerous hiding places to the creature, reported to stand 2ft tall.

After several sightings, Dyfed-Powys police officers swept the area without success. Chief Inspector Brian Wiley, who is based at Aberystwyth, said: "There have been sufficient sightings to suggest that the culprit is something other than the usual attackers of farm stock."

He said the possibility that more than one animal was at large, and was possibly mating, could not be ruled out.

Last night, farmers met in Pontrhydfendigaid to form a committee to call on the Welsh Office for funds to pay for a tracker to catch the Beast. Gwilym Thomas, of the Farmers Union of Wales, warned: "Until the Beast is brought to book, every farmer must take all precautions to protect their livestock."

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