Although they are not necessarily a new phenomena, alien big cats have only really become a significant thread in British folklore in the last thirty years, thanks to high profile flaps such as the Beast of Exmoor and the Beast of Bodmin. “Alien” in this instance refers, of course, not to any extraterrestrial origin, but simply to a species that is not native to the local habitat. Arguably, even the domestic cat is an alien species in Britain but they are well-established, whilst the term “alien big cat” is primarily used to denote large predatory felines such as pumas, panthers or even cryptozoological specimens which have somehow escaped scientific attention over the centuries.
There is no proven evidence of the existence of such animals anywhere in the British Isles. Occasionally, big cats do escape from captivity and roam the countryside but they are rarely at large for long. However, supporters of the alien big cat hypothesis argue that the creatures are the issue of former pets released into the wild following the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act, but many scientists argue that the climate and potential breeding pool would be insufficient to sustain a stable population of big cats in the British countryside for any length of time. Nonetheless, sightings persist and perhaps more tellingly, the mysterious mutilation of pets and livestock.
On October 29th 2005, the Halifax Evening Courier reported a spate of such sightings across the Calderdale region, including two witness reports dating from August of that year of a beast with yellow eyes in the area near Cunnery Wood, above Shibden Hall. Calderdale Council Countryside Officer, Edward Ashman opined, “I’ve never seen one myself and I haven’t seen any deer carcasses, which I would expect to find. But there could be a big cat living around here. People do buy wild animals, realise they can’t handle them and then release them into the countryside. Big cats naturally cover a large geographical area, so it’s possible it could be the same animal seen in different parts of Calderdale.”
Several days after this, on November 1st, the Courier printed the testimony of Geoffrey Horrocks-Taylor, who farms land only four hundred yards from Cunnery Wood and who claimed to have recently discovered one of his ewes mutilated in the night. Mr. Horrocks-Taylor said, “We went out at eight-thirty the next morning and we knew something was up. The magpies and crows were all there but they could not have eaten that much. The whole rear right leg had been eaten away. It went right to the bone. It was horrible. We couldn’t understand how it happened. One dog couldn’t have done that. Two dogs couldn’t have done that… I think it is possible it might be something like a big cat.”
Several months later on March 6th 2006 there followed an article relating the experience of former president of the Shibden Valley Society, David Horrocks-Taylor (note the name), describing a sighting around Christmas 2005. He says, “This looked like a cat. It was reclining like a cat and it was the size of a big dog. It followed me with its eyes. I went home to get my binoculars and camera. When I got back it had disappeared. It looked like a big cat to me but without documentary evidence I can’t really say it was not my eyes or my imagination deceiving me.” The sighting occurred on Simm Carr Lane, further up the valley from Cunnery Wood, across a main road and residential area at Stump Cross.
Whilst the Shibden Valley would certainly be as good a territory as any for a big cat loose in the Calderdale region, with wide tracts of open countryside and woodland in which to lurk, not to mention a plentiful food supply in the flocks of sheep and herds of deer which roam the hillsides. However, it seems very curious that following the initial sighting in August 2005, that subsequent accounts both come from men with the same surname, Horrocks-Taylor. A little research reveals that both men were members of the Shibden Valley Society. Would it be cynical to suggest that the mutilation and Christmas sighting were a hoax cooked up for the amusement of the Horrocks-Taylors?
Perhaps not. In May 2011, another “cat flap” broke out in the pages of the Evening Courier, with the newspaper rather luridly dubbing the phenomenon the “Catbeast”. The initial sighting came from nineteen year old Lightcliffe resident Sean McGeady whilst walking his dog along Nunlea Royd towards Bentley Avenue, in the incongruous surroundings of the Stoney Lane housing estate. The creature appeared to be heading for a nearby park. He told the newspaper: “It appeared too fast, large and lean to be a dog, cat or fox… It appeared to have a light brown colouration, lighter than a fox. It looked very lean and muscular, and was perhaps the size of a lynx”.
Sean McGeady’s sighting prompted a spate of people from across Calderdale coming forward to inform the Courier of their own experiences. What was striking, however, was the disparity between accounts. One woman referred to witnessing a creature resembling a “puma-like black cat… about the size of a large German shepherd dog” near Elland, whilst another man described encountering something like a cougar in the vicinity of Queensbury. It seems that these sightings are of a different animal to that seen by Sean McGeady in Lightcliffe. If there really are big cats living wild in the Calderdale region, there must be a variety of different breeds.