‘Big cat’ sightings from all parts of the county are reported sporadically and may feature prominently in the local press. Repeated ‘sightings’ are sometimes awarded lurid names such as ‘Beast of Bleaklow’. Records almost all relate to sightings, with a small number of reports of sheep or other livestock slaughtered by a ‘big cat’. None of these reports has yet been backed up by any kind of hard evidence such as a photo, corpse, track, or other field sign and none of the dead livestock has shown the typical signs of killing by a large cat which can generally be easily differentiated forensically from those killed by stray dogs. It is most likely that most or all of these reports are in fact misidentified large domestic cats or black labradors, or optimistic or fanciful interpretations of half-glimpsed movements.
Nor has anyone provided a satisfactory explanation for the origin of these large felines. A large number of the reports, as from elsewhere in the UK, refer to ‘large black cats’. In the wild, melanistic leopards (‘black panthers’) make up a tiny proportion of the total population and so far no-one has come up with a convincing explanation for the apparent prevalence of large black cats here, with extremely few, or no, records of ‘normal’ spotted leopards or typical brown pumas. Another interesting feature of the ‘big black cat’ reports is their superficial resemblance to old stories of ‘boggarts’, a phantom black dog that were frequent in the north of the county. The Kinder Boggart is a well-reported phenomenon, and other examples have been formerly reported from the Bradwell, Ashford and Wirksworth areas.
Photo: Derek Whiteley