FOLLOWING last week’s Strath-earn Herald report of “big cat” sightings in the area, two new theories have been put forward as to what the mysterious creature with the long tail is.
Neill Aitken from Comrie doesn’t dispute eye witnesses’ claims but says the animal people are seeing is not a panther, puma or jaguar - it is a binturong or bearcat.
And, Mr Aitken has not only seen the Comrie creature clearly at close range but is very familiar with it, having encountered binturongs when he worked in the Far East where they are not uncommon.
He has also spent time in the jungle, which is the burly mammal’s natural habitat, and would often see them on the edge of oil palm plantations where they would come to forage for kernels.
His sighting closer to home came on a sunny afternoon last year when he was out walking. “ It was at the back of Tullichettle,” he said. “My dog was fossicking around some bales in the field about 10 yards away when I realised there were now two black animals in front of me. The thing the dog had put up ran up the bank and jumped on the fence post where I got a good look at it before it jumped onto the road in front of a car. It gave the fellow in the car a real fright as he had to brake to avoid it. He was really shaken by what he had seen.
“The thing had got up virtually under my feet and I was pretty sure I knew what it was but checked with the countryside ranger anyway. She went on to the computer. I didn’t tell her what it was but described it to her and she came up with a binturong which is what I had expected.”
Mr Aitken says the animal is easy to recognise and his first thought was that it had escaped from the nearby Auchingarrich Wildlife Park. However, he was met with some disbelief when he reported it and was told that it wasn’t from there. “I haven’t mentioned last year’s sighting before now as you get all sorts of comments when you tell people things like that,” he added.
Neither a bear nor a cat, binturongs belong to the same family as the civet. They have long, thick curling tails, which they use to climb trees and which fits with many of the descriptions people have given of their “big cat” experience.
They are omnivores which would also explain the lack of evidence that sceptics sight as a reason to disbelieve the panther and puma claims - i.e no sign of their kills.
The arboreal animal’s natural habitat is the Asian forest and their diet consists of fruit, eggs, shoots, leaves and small animals, such as mice and birds. It is about 24 to 38 inches long with coarse, thick, black fur and its bushy prehensile tail is as long as its body.
In some areas of Malaysia it has even been tamed and is reported to make an affectionate pet.
Local gamekeeper Richard Eadington also contacted the Herald this week with his take on the strange sightings. He has encountered “the big cat of Comrie” on numerous occasions and says he knows exactly what it is.
“It’s a large dog otter,” he told the Herald. “And he’s a big bruiser.
“He plays about the fields and spends a lot of time on open ground and in the Ruchil. When he comes out of the water he’s very black from being wet. He’s got a broad head and a sweeping tail and could easily be mistaken for a big cat.”
So, is it a cat or a dog or something else entirely? If you think you know what the curious creature is email lduke @s-un.co.uk or call the Strathearn Herald office on (01764) 656501.