The Natural Stuff

First Sightings 'The Dorset Large Cat Enigma' - Page 3 of 3

On 13 September 2005, I was out on Stoboro heath near Wareham. I was looking for certain spiders to photograph. I was in an area of humid heath off the small footpath, when I decided to look for Araneus Angulatus, one of Britain's largest orb weaving spiders, and restricted to southern heathland. I had found them here before in good numbers, and usually among the gorse bushes that straddle the stream, alongside a large patch of purple moor grass. It was a very warm day, and all animal life had gone quiet until the day got cooler.

The little horse flies called cleggs were all over me, with their sneaking up kind of appearance. They do not make a sound, but whiz around thinking that I can see them. They are pretty to look at with their multi coloured eyes. I spotted a good place to look for the spiders and realised that it had been so dry for such a long time, that the bogland had dried up, and that I was walking in an area which was usually impossible without wellies. At thirst I did not take much notice of the sound, but after some seconds realised that the swishing of the waist high grass was not being done by me, but another animal. The purple moor grass forms high tussocks and is very dense. One can walk under the tussocks, and the grass itself is quite course so that it rustles when brushed against. I was actually walking on a little path made by deer and other mammals.

imageI became aware of an animal walking in front of me about fifteen yards or so. I was a bit curious as no animal would be walking just in front of me without apparent concern, even though it was concealed among the tall grass. I thought it must be a fox cub of which had not learned to be afraid of man, or maybe a small deer that was not aware that I was behind it. However I kept stopping often to look at and photograph Dolomedes, the raft spider and must have been poking around for twenty minutes on and off, when I looked ahead and saw the grass moving ahead of me still swishing.

'That's weird' I thought 'what animal behaves like that' I scanned the area but could not see anything. I decided to walk quickly through it and whatever it was, l would surely flush it out. As I walked, so did the animal, at the same pace, then all of a sudden there appeared a gap in the height of the grass, and there I briefly glimpsed he top of the animals back.

It was a bit red, but not like a fox, and it was too high, as the grass was up to my waist, but at the gap, it was lower, at my knees at least, yet the shoulders of the animal were visible, and then I realised that the shoulders were muscular, and the animals head was down. It was creeping along. Foxes do not creep, or have large muscular shoulders like that. I realised that a large cat was walking in front of me, and that would explain it. It veered off to one side and I then lost it among more high grass. I immediately remembered the time near Shillingstone when the puma kept circling me in the quarry, and likened it to then.

I soon found my special spiders, and decided to go as I may be in he vicinity of cubs, but before I went I thought it may be a good idea to look for footprints, and as I parted the grass, I could see that a thin path had been worn winding its way around the clumps, and among the many deer slots were the unmistakable spoor of a puma. I decided to get out early in the morning. I was up well before dawn at three o clock, and was at Stoboro heath at four. After seeing nothing from the car but lots of sika deer and greater horseshoe bats under the oak trees I decided to take a walk in yesterday's footsteps. It was soon light, and a vast fog covered the heath.

As I reached a cleared area just above the bog, I set up my large camera and lens, a six hundred mm lens with times two converter, on a tripod and homed in on the area I saw the cat. As I looked to my right I noticed a herd of sika deer feeding on the marsh; about seven of them. One was on its own nearer to me about two hundred yards away. I wondered what it was doing just sat amongst the heather, while all the rest were feeding. Then two mature stags came running from an adjacent field into the heath. Perhaps some were already getting a bit frisky as the rut wasn't far away. Then it all happened so quickly. The stationary deer stood up, as another animal raced from my left at full pelt towards the other, and as it reached it the other leaped into the air at least five feet high, as the other passed beneath, then both animals raced away together to my left. It all happened so quickly, about three or four seconds, but enough to note the cat like shape and long tails of both animals, especially the one that leaped in the air.

That's all I saw of them. I concluded that they were puma cubs, and the animal I thought was a deer lying on its own, was in fact one of the cubs, and the other cub decided to play and raced at it, causing the other to leap in the air vertically, then both ran into the gorse. That is all I saw for the rest of the morning. I could hardly believe what I just witnessed. The cubs were obviously the offspring of the parent seen the day earlier, and the mother was concerned for their safety. Afterwards I had a feeling of deja vous as I recalled the experience regarding the quarry pumas.  On further visits weeks later there were no signs of them.