From Sherlock Holmes to the Beast of Dartmoor, the windswept moorlands in southern England have long been the setting of stories involving a large mysterious predator stalking the landscape in the depths of night. And now, the owner of Dartmoor Zoo thinks that he might have an answer as to why the more modern rumors of big cats are so rife.
To put it simply, Benjamin Mee thinks that they’re all true. He claims that cougars took up residence on the moors after breaking free from the very zoo he now runs long before he took over the helm. According to The Telegraph, out of five of the big cats that were being transported during the 1980s from another zoo to the one Mee now owns, only two of them made it. It is suspected that as they were being taken across the moorland, one breeding pair and another were set free. According to Mee, the large cats were probably surviving out in the wilds until as recently as 2010.
Mee even claims to have seen one of the predators himself when he first moved to Dartmoor in 2006. “They used to come out into the village,” Mee told The Times. “You could see the muscly cheeks and the broad muscly chest, and the rounded ears of a cat. It was looking at me. We all swore, then said ‘Puma!’ We got out of the car as it padded off into the woods.”
He says that between the 1980s and 2010 there were plenty of puma sightings within the region, but that these then suddenly stopped, which he thinks could be down to the extremely cold winter in 2010 killing them off. While convenient, it’s not a wholly adequate explanation, as wild cougars are known to live in much colder environments, from the Canadian Yukon in the north to the Argentinian Patagonia in the south.
The idea, though, of the big cats escaping might not be so farfetched. Mee is currently trying to coax one his own animals back, as a Eurasian lynx named Flaviu is still on the run after disappearing from the zoo just two days after arriving from another collection. It is thought to still be living large in Dartmoor, where an ample supply of rabbits, deer, and hares are probably serving it well. While not a threat to people, the zoo has resorted to bringing in an expert tracker with thermal imaging technology in a bid to try and finally recapture the cat.