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Artist’s rendering of the Beast of Exmoor.

The Beast of Exmoor: Is this Phantom Cat More than Mere Folklore?


Generally, it is a good idea for farmers to keep a keen lookout for possible predators for their livestock. But what should they do if that predator is a huge beast which can supposedly hop over high fences and seemingly slip into nothingness? Meet the terror of the English countryside – the frightening Beast of Exmoor.

The Beast of Exmoor is the name given to an animal purported to roam the countryside of Exmoor, in the south-western English counties of Devon and Somerset. This cryptid is believed to be a type of felid, and as it lives outside in a region beyond its natural range, it has been classified as a ‘phantom cat’ or an ‘alien big cat’. Numerous sightings of the Beast of Exmoor have been reported, though some maintain that this animal belongs to the realm of folklore.

Artist’s rendering of the cat-like beast.

Artist’s rendering of the cat-like beast. (CC BY SA)

Beast of Exmoor Sightings

Reports of the Beast of Exmoor can be traced back to as early as the 1970s. It was, however, only a decade later that it really caught the attention of the British public. In the spring of 1983, a South Molton farmer by the name of Eric Ley claimed that over a hundred of his sheep were killed within a period of two and a half months. According to the reports, the farmer noticed that all the dead animals had had their throats violently ripped out, and the blame was placed on a felid.

Although Ley is not reported to have seen the killer with his own eyes, sightings of this mysterious creature were reported in the following decades. The latest sighting, for instance, was reported (and filmed) in 2017 at Crowcombe Park Gate, in Somerset’s Quantock Hills. Given the number of sightings over such a long span of time, many believe that the notorious Beast of Exmoor is not one, but several animals.

An alleged picture of the beast.

An alleged picture of the beast. (CC BY SA)

A Large Cat-like Beast

Those who claim to have seen the Beast of Exmoor generally agree that it is a large, cat-like animal. It is either black or dark grey in color and has a long tail. When sighted, the Beast of Exmoor is normally on all fours on the ground, though there are accounts claiming that the animal can jump over fences almost 2 meters (6.56 ft.) in height.

The Beast of Exmoor has been photographed on several occasions, and the images match the verbal descriptions of the animal. Apart from that, the killing of many livestock, mainly sheep, as well as domestic pets has been attributed to this animal. Be that as it may, such a creature has never officially been captured, either dead or alive.

The Beast of Exmoor has been photographed on many occasions.

The Beast of Exmoor has been photographed on many occasions. (multi story theatre company)

In 2009, the carcass of an animal washed up near Croyde Bay, in North Devon. This body caused much excitement, as it looked like the remains of a large cat-like creature. It did not take long for people to speculate that these were the remains of the Beast of Exmoor. Although it seemed that physical evidence for this legendary animal was finally available, it was later proven that the dead creature was a grey seal.

Claims of a Hybrid Cat or Supernatural Creature

Several hypotheses have been put forward to explain the presence of such an anomaly in this part of the world. One of these, for example, is that it is the offspring of an escaped black panther (i.e. a melanistic big cat) and another felid. In other words, the Beast of Exmoor is believed to be an unknown hybrid species. If this new species continued to reproduce, it may explain how sightings of the animal could span over a long period of time.

A black leopard from the Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde, Arizona.

A black leopard from the Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde, Arizona. (Qilinmon/CC BY SA 3.0)

Others, however, have proposed that the Beast of Exmoor is a supernatural creature. Supporters of this hypothesis point to the fact that although the animal has been seen, it has never been caught. There are some well-known stories about the animal’s ability to evade capture.

One of these, for instance, is that when the British Army were successful in trapping and surrounding the Beast of Exmoor when they were called in to hunt the animal. When the soldiers entered the building, however, the animal was nowhere to be found and the men left empty-handed. Some have suggested that the Beast of Exmoor is from a parallel universe and is capable of slipping in and out of different dimensions, hence avoided being captured by the British Army.

Exmoor landscape in North Devon, Great Britain.

Exmoor landscape in North Devon, Great Britain. (Manfred Heyde/CC BY SA 3.0)

To conclude, many people, especially locals, believe that the Beast of Exmoor exists. Eye-witness accounts are the main source of evidence for this animal. Nevertheless, sceptics maintain that the Beast of Exmoor is merely a creature of folklore and urban legend.

Top image: Artist’s rendering of the Beast of Exmoor. Source: CC BY SA

By Wu Mingren


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AnkaraToran's picture

I thinks its possible  “ The Beast of Exmoor” could be an escaped zoo animal or even an exotic pet that somone let go. I’m a fan of cryptozoology so I take an interest in arcticles such as this.

Similar problem where I live. Catamounts (mountain lions) are supposed to be extinct here despite numerous eye witness reports and photos and despite the admission on the QT by wildlife rangers.

I like supernatural theories, but could it be that this animal escaped from a zoo or an owner? Unlikely I guess.

dhwty's picture


Wu Mingren (‘Dhwty’) has a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History and Archaeology. Although his primary interest is in the ancient civilizations of the Near East, he is also interested in other geographical regions, as well as other time periods.... Read More

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