THE elusive Galloway big cat, now known as “the Galloway puma”, has been spotted for the first time in two years just outside Newton Stewart.
A couple travelling to Glasgow managed to get so close to the creature that they were in no doubt as to what it was.
Alan Dalton and his wife Mandy had been staying with relatives in Stranraer before popping in to see a nephew in Newton Stewart on Sunday.
Alan said: “We dropped off Christmas presents at his house before heading home on the Girvan road at about 3.30pm. The light was fading and we rounded the corner near the gates to Penninghame House when Mandy pointed to something on the opposite side of the road. What looked like a particularly big black dog was crouched by the roadside, watching us approach.
“I slowed right down as I thought its owner must also be nearby and didn’t want either of them to step out, but as we passed it was clear this wasn’t a dog. I do feel foolish saying this but I’d swear it was a huge cat. It had yellowish eyes and a big tail that was wrapped around its legs.”
Alan, a scientist who says he feels silly telling friends the story, reversed the car slowly to get a better look.
“Mandy was trying to get her phone out to take a picture but as we stopped the car alongside it, the animal was obviously spooked and turned around before leaping off into the bushes,” Alan continued. “I’m not easily persuaded by such stories but this got to me. I saw this creature and it’s not something I’m used to seeing by the roadside. It was large – too large to be a domestic cat – and too stealth-like to have been anything else. It was a big cat, probably the size of a labrador.”
The big cat mystery has been present in Galloway for years. Sightings have been recorded from as far east as Corsock and as far west as Ardwell, with Garlieston, Creetown, Gatehouse, New Luce, Glentrool and Kirkcowan also calling in with strange creatures spotted in back gardens and fields.
John Denerley, of Galloway Wildlife Conservation Park in Kirkcudbright, said the Daltons may well have seen a large cat, probably feral.
He added: “Sightings of large cats in Britain have increased since the 20th century. But from 1976, when the law regulating private collections and exotic pets was tightened, they skyrocketed. The majority these days are of large black cats – most probably black leopards.
“It’s quite difficult to capture them on film or in a photograph. But people still report seeing mysterious black cats in Scotland throughout the year, and I am keen to hear from anyone else with similar experiences. The more sightings there are, the more interesting it gets.
“I have little doubt that someone saw what someone believes to be a medium-sized cat – medium as opposed to a domestic-sized or one of the larger species – probably a feral cat or dog. I can confirm that none of our animals has escaped from the park.”
Galloway Gazette columnist and vet Jo Gourlay has had her own experience of something mysterious and cat-like. When walking in the woods near Glentrool last year, she spotted a huge cat paw print which had frozen in the mud, and which tested her animal expertise.
She said: “I really didn’t know what else it could be. It was formed perfectly as a cat’s and wasn’t like a dog’s. I tried to get a picture but it was too dark. I didn’t hang about.”
Jo has written about Scottish wildcats in a previous edition of the Gazette, in which she makes reference to sightings in Stranraer.