A ROSS-SHIRE woman who had dismissed big cat sightings as "totally fantastical" had a dramatic change of heart after seeing a mysterious black creature cross the road in front of her.
Sheena MacBain, who grew up hearing about sightings of big cats, says she was always supremely sceptical about such stories until her own close encounter of an unexplained kind.
Ms MacBain (46), who has a BSc in Environmental Science and is the daughter of a retired gamekeeper, was sufficiently impressed by her recent encounter to put the matter on record with local police in Dornoch, and now says, "I now know that this cat story is no longer just a story."
Based in Fearn, she had been making her way along the low road to Dornoch at 7.30am to view a potential gardening job when the incident occurred.
She said, "I was heading along the road at Cuthill when I saw what I first thought was a black labrador dog go in under the fence at the side of the road. It took me a second to register that this 'dog' actually had a long, lush cat's tail. The fact that I own a black lab, who was with me at the time, meant I knew it wasn't a labrador I saw cross that road!
"I stopped the car and could see there was a clear path down through the whin bushes and on further investigation although I didn't venture too far I could see there was actually a network of paths being used by this creature.
"Unsure of what to do, or whether there was someone in particular I should tell, I called into the police station at Dornoch to ask advice. The woman behind the reception desk quite literally rolled her eyes when I mentioned the words 'big cat'! She took my details and said she'd pass the information on to the wildlife liaison officer, but I have the feeling that I've been filed under 'crazy person'."
She admitted, "Having grown up around Dornoch, but now living in Easter Ross, I've heard of reputed sightings of this 'big cat' since I was a child. I was always a sceptic and thought the whole thing a completely fantastical tale. I'd always dismissed the people who'd reportedly seen this cat as being at least attention hungry and, at most, completely unbalanced. I now know that this cat story is no longer just a story even if that means I've now added my name to a list of suspected crazies."
The incident unfolded on August 25. Since then, Ms MacBain says, "I've had a few folks admit that they've also seen a 'big cat'."
A police spokesman confirmed Northern Constabulary had dealt with a "spate" of reported big cat sightings earlier this year. Northern Constabulary itself issued a statement following two reported incidents of unexplained livestock deaths near Edderton in which they said police were "looking into the possibility that... sheep may have been attacked by a large cat, due to the nature of the injuries".
That came in the wake of a spate of unexplained deaths of sheep on nearby Rheguile Farm. A total of 18 sheep had been reported savaged since the beginning of the year, many stripped to the bone.
The Journal also at the end of April detailed sightings reported by a pair of Tain-based sisters when they were driving near Embo not far from the most recent sighting. They remain convinced that the creature they saw, and watched at a distance for around five minutes, was not a domestic cat.
Big cat speculation has been fuelled by several other sightings and mysterious finds of remains including those of a deer at Upper Braefindon on the Black Isle.
Police said this week experts thought some of the sightings were of large domesticated cats while some of the livestock kills have instead been put down to dogs.
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