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What has happened to all the big black cat sightings in Moray?


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WHERE have all the big black cats of the Moray countryside gone?

Where have all the big black cat sightings gone?
Where have all the big black cat sightings gone?

It has been a long time since there has been any sightings of them reported in the press.

They initially came to prominence when one was killed by a gamekeeper at Kellas in 1984. From then on any specimens seen or killed were usually referred to as “Kellas” cats.

Between 1984 and 1992 eight of these cats were killed by gamekeepers in an area ranging from Kellas to Burgie and south to Grantown.

They were reported to be larger and longer legged than the normal Scottish wild cat with males averaging 42 inches (170 cm) from nose to tail in comparison to male Scottish wildcats 24-39 inches (61-100cm).

The male animal killed at Kellas in 1984 was 15 inches (38cm) at the shoulder in comparison to the shoulder height of a male Scottish wildcat at 13.5 -14 inches (34-36cm).

During the years that followed big black cats were being reported by members of the public throughout the Moray district and beyond. Some people were reporting that the cats they had seen were the size of leopards or pumas.

Personally, I doubted that there was black (melanistic) pumas or leopards roaming the Moray countryside because at the time the Kellas type cats were being killed or seen I was wandering most of the Moray woodlands monitoring breeding sparrowhawks.

During the course of my monitoring I only had one sighting of a big black cat and this was at the west end of Monaughty Forest.

I was driving through the forest one day and saw a big black cat walking along a grassy side track that led away from the main track I was driving on.

I stopped my car and spied it through binoculars from a distance of about 200m. Like the Kellas cats it was taller than a Scottish wildcat. It had its back to me and I noted that it wiggled as it walked suggesting to me that it was quite heavy bodied as well.

At one point it turned side on and I could see faint cryptic stripes like those of a Scottish wildcat through its black top coat.

I came to the conclusion that it was probably a hybrid between a Scottish wildcat and a feral cat which most of the Kellas cat specimens were found to be when examined by Dr Andrew Kitchener of the National Museum of Scotland who was an expert on Scottish wildcats.

After many more years of wandering the Moray countryside I never saw another Kellas cat or any signs of bigger cats.

Our columnist Merlin reflects on the history of black cats in Moray.
Our columnist Merlin reflects on the history of black cats in Moray.

Pumas and leopards make scratch marks on trees reaching up to their full stretch which would be noticeable.

They also urinate on trees when marking their territories and the urine of big cats like domestic cats has a strong smell. I have a good sense of smell and can detect the scent marking of foxes easily so would have smelt puma or leopard urine as I wandered through the woods.

It was thought that the supposed puma and leopard sightings were those of escapees from private collections. However, no melanistic pumas have ever been recorded in their native habitat and black leopards are rare in their native habitat.

n Have you seen a big black cat? Share your stories or pictures with Merlin by emailing him direct at newsdesk@northern-scot.co.uk


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