CROFTERS in the Bettyhill area claim they have been the latest victims of a mysterious beast which has killed one of their ewes and stripped the carcass bare.
The attack took place on Saturday when a Cheviot ewe belonging to Swordly couple George and Susan Mackay was killed and had all of its body ripped off its bones.
It is the latest in a series of sheep killings in the area which have taken place in recent years which locals claim have been perpetrated by a big feral cat.
The killing took place within 100 yards of the couple’s house and close to the spot where, in February 2012, a long-tailed cat-like creature the size of a springer spaniel was seen by neighbour Andy MacLachlan when they also experienced one of their ewes being killed.
In last weekend’s killing, the skin had been cleanly flayed from the body before almost all the flesh had been consumed.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) staff have taken the carcass away and will be carrying out tests in an attempt to identify what has killed the ewe.
Mrs Mackay (56) said she and her husband are keen to find out what killed their ewe, as they feel the carcass was left too clean to have been attacked by a dog or fox.
"We found the carcass peeled bare on Saturday morning," she said.
"We think that the ewe was attacked and eaten on Friday night.
"The killing was spectacularly done and it was a big ewe as she weighed 55 kilogrammes and was marked to have twins.
"But she is completely gone and there is not a smidgeon of meat left on her.
"The fleece was peeled off and all the meat on the inside had been eaten.
"Foxes are messy eaters who just tug parts of the carcass out so we don’t think it was that.
"SNH has gone away with the ear tag and the carcass and will be carrying out tests.
"We hope they will be able to find out what killed our ewe.
The killing follows on from incidents last year at Invernaver, west of Bettyhill, when crofter Lorna Mackay lost 15 lambs in the space of eight weeks . She is certain a mysterious big cat was responsible.
Lorna was provided with a set of night vision cameras by SNH in an attempt to find out what was killing her flock. But she was unable to detect any sighting of the mysterious beast.
In December, crofter John Mackay from Naver, Bettyhill, came across the remains of a hogg in his reseed park which locals say could be attributed to being killed by an unknown beast.
The killings are reminiscent of carcasses found in a similar spate of killings which took place across a wide tract of land from Skerray to Strath-halladale between 1976 and 1981.
Bettyhill, Strathnaver and Altnaharra Community Council chairman Jim Johnston said members of the community want to find out the results from SNH to identify what has been killing livestock.
"We hope that the beast has left something detectable behind to identify what has been killing the sheep," he said.
"There have been views expressed through time about what the predator is.
"The latest attacks are similar to those the area experienced between 1976 and 1981 when there was sighting of a puma type animal roaming across north Sutherland and Caithness.
"There are also views it might be a loose dog that is killing the sheep or perhaps foxes have changed their behaviour.
"But the real truth is that nobody knows what is killing the sheep in this way."