Friday, July 11, 2008

MONSTER QUEST: The Black Beast of Exmoor

History Channel - Original Air Date: 7/8/08

What is the beast stalking the lands near Exmoor, England?  Witnesses describe a large, black, feline creature.  But there are no large cats currently native to England.  The Scottish Wildcat is "only" four feet long, and it's range is limited to Scotland.  But, in 2007 alone there were more than 2000 sightings of the beast.  Can the creature be an escaped pets?  Large cats were legal to own in Britain until 1976, and releasing them was not illegal until 1981.  Livestock losses in the 1980s became so serious that the government sent in troops -- but there were no cats captured or killed.  A recent kill, though, reveals telltale marks of cat predation -- prey killed at the neck, rather than dragged down as dogs or wolves would do.

The History Channel assembles a team, including a big cat rescue expert, and ventures out.  Because of Britain's strict gun laws, they will be depending on their wits and experience to keep them save.  One expert believes the creature to be merely local legend.  But there are pictures and even some video seeming to show a big cat.  And there are hair and scat samples for testing, too.  The team sets up the ubiquitous History Channel camera traps, and a scent lure as well.  There are lots of eyewitnesses, but are they reliable?  One expert sets up an experiment to test eyewitnesses size, color, and shape.  They use cut-outs ranging from the size of domestic cats to the size of a puma or cougar.  They test the cut-outs at 50', 100', and 150' away with a 5-second glimpse.  The test subjects do well at judging the size and shape of cat -- suggesting that people may really be seeing large cats.

But the show's big cat expert thinks the video is of a domestic cat, and the large paw print belongs to a dog.  Experts split on the film of a dear carcass with puncture wounds.  The scat and hair samples are not from a big cat, either.  The camera trap turns up only a badger.  Even the scars on a mauled teenager are unconvincing. Despite the sightings, there is still no poof of a mystery cat in England.

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