The official verdict is that it doesn’t exist; a folklore embellished down the decades that every so often resurfaces with fervour. Eye-witness accounts all describe the same thing; a black or dark-coated creature with a long tail, far too big to be a domestic cat.
The Exmoor beast first made the headlines in the 1970s when a farmer reported to have lost 100 sheep in the space of a month, all of them slaughtered by a vicious throat injury. A steady stream of big cat sightings would follow as speculation grew as to whether a puma, leopard, or panther, could actually be living wild in the North Devon moorland.
The ‘phantom cat’ phenomenon applies to large felines that appear in regions outside of their indigenous range. The theory goes that big cats, which had become status symbols among wealthy Brits during the 1960s, were released into the wild after a law was passed that made it illegal for them to be kept in captivity outside of a zoo. Because the lifespan of a puma or leopard is between 12-15 years, they must have bred on release into the wild for there to be any truth behind the more recent rumours.
Sightings of panther-like cats stalking the countryside continue to be reported both on and around Exmoor National Park. Here are some of the more recent accounts of the beast shared from the ‘exmoorian’ website:
“On a hillock, 15m from the roadway, I sighted a wild cat, brown black with pointed black-tipped ears in the ‘strike’ position. I grew up in Western Canada where cougars and bobcats were regularly sighted and the dimensions of this creature were markedly similar, including a long curling tail.” 16th July 2012.
“We were driving from Dulverton to Lynmouth around mid-to-late morning across the moors when we saw the black panther, which ran across the road and stood on top of the hedge so we had a very clear sighting of it.” 14th October 2010
“I saw what was probably the Exmoor beast between Wiveliscombe and Bampton early this morning. It crossed the road in front of my car. Looked more like a large wolf than a big cat.” 19th March 2010
“A big cat or several cat-like animals live on Exmoor. This cannot be doubted. I have seen them.” 12th December 2008
Thankfully, an official Toad Hall Cottages sighting has yet to be made so we’re confident our guests can continue to enjoy their Exmoor holidays without too much cause for concern!
For more unusual sightings on the West Country’s moorland, read our recent article: Three things you wouldn’t expect to find on Dartmoor.