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The Beasts of Dartmoor


As with any wild expanse of land there have been many reports and sightings of ‘Big Cats’ on Dartmoor. People talk of ‘The Beast of Dartmoor’ when more likely as not it should be ‘The Beasts of Dartmoor’. Talk to any body that spends a lot of time on the moor and the chances are that they have seen or heard something related to a big cat or know somebody that has. I have never seen a big cat but near Dick’s Well I have seen paw prints. The old story is that paw prints are usually left by a big dog and rain has enlarged them. The ones I saw were large and clearly showed long claws, the rain could not have enlarged them because they were frozen and the edges of the print were ‘crisp’ and showing no sign of deterioration. I have seen ponies and sheep with their throats torn out down by Dendles Wood. A friend has been lucky enough to have spotted one near the ruins of Doe Tor Farm. He related how he was returning from a days walk and it was getting towards dusk when he came past the old farm. Something made him stop and look back and he clearly saw a large light brown cat. It had climbed up onto a low wall about a 100 yards away and stood for a couple of seconds looking directly at him. The animal then slowly flicked its long tail a couple of times and in his words, “nonchalantly leapt off the wall and loped off.”

Considering the size of Dartmoor and the numbers of livestock that graze there it has everything for a big cat to survive. The isolation would mean that very little would disturb such a creature and the sheep and ponies would provide an excellent meat source. It is thought that the introduction of the 1976 Dangerous Animals Act  was a contributing factor in the appearance of the big cats. The act required any owner of such an animal to obtain a license from the local authorities and ensure it was kept in secure conditions. Some owners did not or could not obtain the licenses and so simply released the animals in the wild. It is not known whether any of them actually bred or how many survived in their new environments but sightings regularly occur.

Dartmoor sightings have varied from big black cats through big beige cats to a lion. In November 1998 a young male lion was spotted near to Wrangaton and a paw print was found which was deemed to be that of a lion by a big cat specialist from the Dartmoor Wildlife Park. At the time the police had to deter would be ‘Big Game Hunters’ who were stalking the beast with shotguns, armed officers then conducted a fruitless search of their own, no more has been heard of the ‘Dartmoor Lion’. Listed below are just a few of the reported sightings and big cat stories.

Dartmoor – Large skull found on the moor, possibly that of a Puma – later thought to have come from a big cat skin rug.
May – Widecombe-in-the Moor – Farmer shot a Leopard Cat that was attacking his poultry. The animal was thought to have escaped from a travellers camp.

March – Holne – big cat sighted.
July – Between Two Bridges and Princetown – big cat sighted.

March – Butterdon Hill – big cat sighted.
October – Giant’s Basin – Boys were camping on the moor and were awoken by strange noises. In the morning they found evidence that two big cats had clawed through the outer tent. 
November – Cheston nr Wrangaton – lion sighting. 
November – Dousland – huge tooth marks found in a tin of cat food, rubbish sacks torn apart and large paw print left which wildlife experts believe to be a puma’s. 

November – Cornwood – a large ‘puma-like’ cat sighted.

April – Large black cat was spotted on Manaton Green and it’s supposedly responsible for the deaths of 14 hens in the area.
July – A ‘puma-like’ animal spotted by two Dartmoor walkers about ½ north east of Drewsteignton.

August – Legis tor – A large jet black cat was observed for about 20 minutes as it stalked some grazing sheep. It was reported that the beast was about a foot taller and twice as long as the sheep.

June Hound Tor – A large black/grey stocky beast said to resemble a, “bear”, seen ambling along a track below the tor.
June – Longaford Tor – A puma-like figure photographed, see below.

Nobody knows when the first reported sighting of a big cat was made but it is a well known fact that exotic animals were brought into this country to go in ‘menagerie’ collections as early as the 1600’s. Therefore it just could be that the legends of the ‘Wisht Hounds and ‘Black Dogs‘ have there roots in an escaped animal from the early menageries. It would certainly explain the ‘green eyes’ that appear in many of the stories. 

There are many times on Dartmoor when out of the corner of your eye you spot a dim and distant figure darting between the granite rocks. But you only get a fleeting glimpse and it is impossible to be sure what you have seen. I often imagine that somewhere like the photograph below would be an ideal spot to see The Beast of Dartmoor and wouldn’t it be nice to actually get a photograph of the elusive animal?

It appears as the ‘Beast of Dartmoor’ is still alive and well in 2008 as the following communication demonstrates:

Dear Sir or Madam

I have just returned to London following a three day solo trip to Dartmoor. I arrived Saturday morning and set off for the North Moor from Okehampton. I took in a number of my favourite tors and by 1730 hours I had reached Black Tor. The light was fading so I decided to find a suitable place to camp. I walked down to the West Okement River and pitched my tent by the Sandy Ford Spring. This is situated between Steng-a-Tor and Lints Tor (grid ref: 574 877). As I was collecting some fresh water I came across the fleece of a slaughtered sheep. Scattered around the area were several bones, some with meat still attached. Spookily no sooner had I wondered what might have killed the poor creature than I heard the sound of barking from the hill above. At first I thought it was probably someone walking their dog but what convinced me otherwise was that it continued intermittently until 1930 hours and it had become dark by about 1745 hours. The barking was mixed with loud growling and howling like no domestic dog I have ever heard. As ridiculous as it may sound, the only time I have ever heard a similar sound was when watching ‘An American Werewolf in London!’ As a result, by about 1900 hours, I began shouting and banging my pots in an attempt to scare it away. By this time I had heard it coming from three sides. It started above me, between my camp and Kitty Tor, then moved down to the valley to the north of me and then moved up the other side towards Black Tor. At this point I could make out a small heard of sheep running fast up the hill. I would estimate from the proximity of the sound that the dog came to within 150 metres of me but unfortunately at no time did I see it. Each time I heard the barking I walked in the direction of it, shouting at it to try and ward it off. I don’t scare easily and have walked and camped on Dartmoor alone on numerous occasions. For the first time though I was very unsettled. I did not hear it again after 1930 hours and thankfully enjoyed a beast free, albeit chilly, night camped at Black-a-Ven Brook near Oke Tor last night.

Yours sincerely

James Dommett“.

I have received an email from Duncan Rogers who kindly enclosed a photograph he took at 9.30pm on Saturday the 14th of June 2008. He walked up to Longaford Tor (OS grid reference SX 61558 77946) and took a photograph of what he presumed was the sun setting on Dartmoor. However, when he got home and downloaded the picture he noticed that not only had he captured the sunset but also what appeared to be a puma on the nearby southern outcrop of the tor. As can be seen below, at first the mystery figure is not obvious but the more the picture is enlarged the more the puma-like figure becomes clear, so my thanks to Duncan for allowing me to put the ‘Beast of Longaford’ on this page.

Beast of Dartmoor

Things seemed to go quiet for eight years until the July of 2016 when a two year old lynx called Flaviu escaped from the Dartmoor Zoo, his story can be read in full on the Flaviu the Lynx page. Also what came to light was the revelation that back in 1980s three pumas were released by the same zoo which would more than explain the puma-like sightings listed above. It appears that these beast roamed and bred on Dartmoor where they raised about three generations of offspring. For some inexplicable reasons the sightings and reports stopped in 2010, very possibly because the pumas did not manage to survive the harsh winter of that year. Once this story came out many local people have now confessed to seeing the pumas and farmers have reported livestock attacks during that period.

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor


  1. Kristian Carter

    Back in the 1990`s whilst letterboxing near Newlycombe and was sat on a rock overlooking the valley below
    when a Chinook helicopter came up from the direction of Burator . The noise disturbed a Puma that was down in the bottom, it ran up the hill and passed within 20 feet of me.

    • Could have been one of the three pumas allegedly released whilst at or on their way to the Dartmoor Zoo?

  2. The so called story of three Pumas being released ‘by the same zoo’ is a complete fallacy cooked up by the present owner of Dartmoor Zoo in an attempt to lessen his own responsibility in allowing a Lynx to simply walk out of his own zoo less than 24 hrs after it arrived. The founder of the Dartmoor Wildlife Park was one of the team which worked with Parliament to draw up the Dangerous Animals Act in the first place – not exactly the sort to release dangerous animals into the wild on a whim!

  3. Wanna see the video I just took some thing def lives on the moors

  4. I am from America from Colorado where pumas live freely and wild. Big cats do not leave claw marks they have retractable claws that only come out when needed thus keeping them sharp and not worn down further more there has never been any DNA evidence shown on the carcasses found which is almost always present at a kill so it is highly unlikely that there are any living in the area. I have tracked and hunted pumas with my friends father and can tell you they also like to leave scat along the trails to mark and warn other cats they are in the area so where is all the scat? Pumas and panther also will not consume a kill in one sitting rather burying it and coming back several times to eat it. It may be possible that some exotic pets make it out on to the moors but there still is no physical evidence supporting the claims any more than bigfoot!

    • Sorry I should make clear the claw marks I am talking about are in the footprints. once in a great while there is a hint of a claw but if u see claws marks in a footprint more than 2cm its a dog!

  5. I thought I saw a black cat in a popular Forrest on Dartmoor about ten days ago. I didn’t think any more of it or mention it to anyone as I thought it may have been my eyes playing tricks as it was quite late. The next day in the same area I heard animals running away from something, then distinctly heard a ver6 loud roar! It completely freaked me out! Like nothing I’ve ever heard before. I froze and listened to see if I could hear it again. I did. It sounded very close! I literally didn’t know what to do. I heard it a third time and it was moving away, so I started walking quickly. Today in the same area (I hadn’t been back there yet) I smelt, then saw a dead sheep. It had been ripped apart. Pretty sure a fox wouldn’t do that. Very very strange. In fact 4 men were camping in the same wood I saw it. I assume they were left alone. I don’t think it would attack humans, but I can’t quite relax there now!

  6. Many years ago on one of my early starts to go letterboxing i was driving at sunrise on th section of road between the prison and two bridges and a very large black cat ran straight across in front of the car in the dip in the road. It was at least the size of a puma if not bigger. On another occasion me and my brother found a pony on Lower white tor. This had had its throat ripped out and all the insides were missing.

  7. There is a paragraph on the cloaked hedgehog about a werewolf attack near piles brook, south of harford east of the river erme, where a woman was walking her dogs, it charged at them, ripped her dogs throats out, and she died of shock in hospital after relating the story.

    Talk of pumas, is there any accounts of wolves or other such occurences.

  8. Bah… Werewolves are a load of tripe. My moneys on feral dogs behind that unfortunate attack. As for wolves, outside the most uninhabbitted parts of Scotlands Highlands, no. We hunted them to extinction, they’ve only been released up there to try and put that right in the past decade or so.

    I’m surprised to have seen no mention of the Royal Marines they sent after it in the 80’s… Or was that Exmoore?

    • Wolves have not yet been reintroduced to Scotland, it is on the cards but sadly I don’t think it will come to be. Also the Eurasian lynx is in consideration for reintroduction, this will most likely be the better option.

  9. Claire Douglas

    Ppprobably the same beasts as the ones on Bodmin Moor.

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