Exmoor is an area of moorland in the northern Devon and west Somerset areas of South-West England. It is named for the River Exe that has its source in the area and runs down to the sea at Exmouth. It is also the home of the mysterious cat-like cryptid known as the Beast of Exmoor.
The original sightings of the Beast of Exmoor came from the 1970s but it gained fame in 1983 when a farmer from South Moulton reported the loss of over 100 sheep in a three-month period. All of them had been killed due to violent injuries to the throat that were unlike those caused by a dog or fox.
Initial explanations were that it was a cougar or a black leopard which had been released before the 1976 Exotic Pets Act came into force, making it illegal to keep big cats unless in a zoo. However, both these cats have a lifespan of 12-15 years so there is little chance that the same creature killed the sheep in 1983.
Eyewitnesses have variously reported the beast as resembling puma or a panther and up to eight feet from nose to tail. It stands low to the ground and has excellent jumping skills, clearing 6-foot fences either ease. The beast was described as either black, tan or dark grey.
In 1983, due to the reports of livestock deaths spreading, the Ministry of Agriculture sent the Royal Marines to the Exmoor area with the brief of catching and killing the Beast. A number of the marines reported seeing glimpses of the creature but none were able to take a shot. Some of this may have been in concern that the high-powered sniper rifles they were using could cause serious damage to any bystander accidentally caught in the firing line. The Marine’s commanding officer reported that the Beast always moved with surrounding cover in woods and the hedges and behaved with high ‘almost human’ intelligence.
One witness in 2010 was a man who worked for the National Park for seven years and described seeing a black cat slightly larger than an Alsatian dog that ran across the road in front of him, hesitated for a moment then disappeared into a hedge. He described it having emerald green eyes and a tail that was nearly the length of its body. Another witness report from July 2012 stated that she saw the beast on a hillock 15 metres from the road she travelling on, the A361. It was brown-black and was crouched ready to strike at something. It had a long tail and black pointed ears. When she reported it to the police, she was told that emergency vehicles and the RSPCA were being sent. No details of their findings have been publicised.
Reports have continued up until current times, with statements from locals as well as visitors to the area all reporting the same black-brown large cat. This adds further evidence to the fact that this is either not the same animal as the original Beast, meaning there is a breeding population, or this is not a cat at all but merely a cryptid which resembles one.