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A stunned dog walker claims he came 'within yards' of the legendary beast of Exmoor near Brayford, Devon.

Sam Aston, 30, was out walking his dog when he spotted the black, long-tailed phantom cat that is rumoured to prowl the moors since initial sightings in the early 1970s.

He quickly took out his phone to capture a snap of the huge beast before it vanished.

Describing the sight, he said: "It was about 11.45am and I looked into a big open empty field to my left and 200 or 300 yards away a black animal was running.

"I couldn't make out what it was so I grabbed my phone and took a pic for identification purposes. I'm a bit of a wildlife photographer and I automatically went through a list – was it a dog, a deer, a cow?

"I started to check off these animals. It ran like a cat but there's no cat of that size in this country. It was the size of a big Labrador.

"It had a big long tail and I watched it running for about 10 seconds. And then it was gone. I know what I think it was but the idea of seeing a big cat in the UK is very, very unlikely.

"I'm a professional dog walker and know what a dog runs like. And dogs and cats run very differently. If it was a big cat it was probably released years or decades ago.

"They're shy animals and don't seek conflict – I'd be more than happy to go back there again."

The sighting is believed to be the most recent sighting of the elusive big cat, commonly known as the Beast of Exmoor' or 'Devon Devil.'

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The creature is said to roam moorland between north Devon and west Somerset called Exmoor.

Although the stuff of legend and sometimes ridicule, it has been theorised that following the Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976 which banned keeping dangerous wild animals without a licence, there were potentially big cats released by their owners into the countryside.

Creatures such as pumas are notoriously elusive and can easily hide away in a vast rural area, experts say.

Devon’s neighbouring county Cornwall also has its own mystery monster – The Bodmin Beast – which has been the subject of numerous sightings.

And Benjamin Mee, owner of the Dartmoor Zoo near Plymouth, whose journey was the subject of a Hollywood film We Bought A Zoo, has his own theory.

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He claimed that three pumas that were due to arrive at the zoo after Plymouth Zoo closed in 1978 never turned up and were released into the wild.

"Some say they were released from the old zoo either by mistake or on purpose – we just don't know – while others say they were being transported here at the time from the zoo in Plymouth,” he said.

"I have no knowledge of the circumstances. But at the time there were three pumas that should have been here at Dartmoor Zoo that were not.”

  • Animals
  • Cats

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