Museum find brings the Beast of Bodmin back under the spotlight
By night, the rugged expanse of Bodmin Moor is a place that can tease and torment the mind.
When the dipping sun is replaced by shrouding darkness, long told tales of a dark snarling predator, teeth stained red with the blood of its prey, heighten the senses and chill the soul.
By night, the heart of the Beast that is said to roam Bodmin Moor has never beat as strong.
The fabled 'Beast of Bodmin' is a legend that has terrified children, and more than a few adults, for decades. A large phantom wild cat, wandering the moor, feasting on the livestock of local farmers and the imaginations of a nation.
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A steady flow of 'Beast' sightings have been poured in to the public's conscious. Tales of close encounters with a big 'Panther-like' cat, mutilated farm animals and the occasional blurry photograph bringing debate, curiosity and, more often than not, mockery.
But, a recent find in the dusty recesses of the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery may have just put the mockers, on the mockers.
The discovery of a stuffed Canadian Lynx, shot dead by a 'Mr Heb' in 1903, after it had killed two dogs, has led scientists to announce that a 'big cat' was on the loose in England's countryside over a century ago.
The animal in question had rested in the depths of the museum for decades having been donated upon its death. Records unearthed at the same time point to the animal having been mislabelled as a Eurasian Lynx by museum curators.
After carrying out tests on the skin and preserved bones of the animal, a team of researchers from Durham, Bristol, Southampton and Aberystwyth universities, believe the Lynx is the earliest example of an 'alien big cat' to have been discovered in the British Isles.
Dr Ross Barnett, who led the research project, said: "This Edwardian feral lynx provides concrete evidence that although rare, exotic felids have occasionally been part of British fauna for more than a century."
Tests also revealed that due to the condition of the animal's teeth, a loss of incisors and build-up of plaque, it was likely that the Lynx was kept in captivity for the majority of its life.
The findings from the research bring into the question the belief that big cat sightings were solely related to the introduction of the 1976 Wild Animals Act which prevented the keeping of exotic pets and saw people releasing such creatures in to the countryside.
Darren Naish, from the University of Southampton, added: "There have been enough sightings of exotic big cats which substantially pre-date 1976 to cast doubt on the idea that one piece of legislation made in 1976 explains all releases of these animals in the UK.
"It seems more likely that escapes and releases have occurred throughout history, and that this continual presence of aliens explains the 'British big cat' phenomenon."
Dr Barnett holds the belief that the Canadian Lynx could have been a part of a travelling menagerie before escaping, or being released, into the wild.
The findings have been documented in the journal, Historical Biology, and the Lynx is now on public display at Bristol Museum.
Although no firm proof exists that 'alien big cats' roam the British countryside today, it's a subject that seems destined to remain rich with sightings and deep in mystery.