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Has ‘Skerray Beast’ struck here again?

By SPP Reporter

Older readers may recall that, way back in the halcyon days between 1976 and 1981, the area round Bettyhill and Skerray was haunted by a cat-like animal with a taste for mutton.

The creature, which became known as “The Skerray Beast” was the subject of numerous sightings over several years, coincident with the discovery of the remains of a significant number of sheep, each of which had been disposed of in a similar manner.

And now, the people of Farr are wondering if the large puma-like cat has returned.

The beast’s modus operandi, marking it off from local scavengers or predators, was its ability to skin its prey every bit as neatly as any human being could.

In the late seventies, there were armed hunts for the animal in the Borgie area, on Naver Rock and around Strathy but, though well-formed footprints were found both in sand and in snow, neither keepers, nor crofters nor police marksmen were ever able to get close enough to take a good shot at the creature or even to identify it positively.

In the eighties the sightings, and the killings, stopped although big cat sightings thereafter became common as far afield as Surrey – probably as a consequence of troublesome pets being released in to the countryside following the Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976 which required owners of exotic pets to keep them securely and care for them properly.

Indeed, a half-tame puma was captured in Moray in October 1980 and ended its days as an exhibit in the Highland Wildlife Park!

Back to today, and to Swordly on 19th December last year where former cattleman, Andy McLachlan was lamping for foxes.

Turning his light on a patch of thin woodland, about 200 yards away across the Swordly Burn, he picked up a pair of extraordinarily bright eyes between the trees.

Thinking this to be a fox, Andy switched his search beam off and gave a couple of peeps on his “squeaker”, a form of home-made whistle intended to emulate the sound of an injured rabbit or hare and which lampers use to lure the fox towards the gun.

After a couple of minutes he put the lamp on again and, sure enough, the owner of the eyes was moving towards him.

Only it wasn’t a fox but a sturdy long tailed cat about the size of a springer spaniel and now only 125 yards away.

This was still a little far for a good shot, so he switched off and waited before lamping for the third time, whereupon the approaching feline bounded off in great leaps quite unlike anything Andy had ever seen before.

Meanwhile, sheep belonging to Swordly crofter, George B. Mackay, currently working offshore, were being fed on the hill overlooking the glen by George’s son Liam, an apprentice engineer.

When Liam went to replenish the ring feeder on a fortnight ago, he found the remains of the carcase of one of his father’s sheep just a few feet from the feeding site.

Like the carcases of the victims of the “Skerray Beast” of 30-odd years ago, it had been cleanly flayed leaving nothing but its hide and its skeleton to decay in to the heather.

As the feeding was done on a weekly basis, it was possible that the kill was up to a week old but, however long it had taken to strip the unfortunate sheep of its skin and to the bone, the end result was astonishingly reminiscent of the carcases from all those years ago.

Andy McLachlan has been continuing to lamp in the area, though very cautiously, given that a cat as big as a medium sized dog could be a very dangerous animal to encounter. In recent days he has had a further glimpse of a fast moving creature, this time on the high rocky ridge that separates Swordly from the A836, but was unable to determine whether this was the same animal.

Whatever the eventual outcome may be there are startling parallels between what has been happening in Swordly in recent weeks and what happened over a very wide area many years ago.

Maybe, this time, the mystery of the “beast” will be solved.

Andy McLachlan with the remnants of the skinned and eaten sheep.
Andy McLachlan with the remnants of the skinned and eaten sheep.

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