What was the beast of Exmoor?

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Answered by: Conrad, An Expert in the Paranormal Phenomena - General Category
From the mid-1970s until the mid-1990s a beast was thought to stalk Exmoor. The beast was said to be a great cat, black or gray in color that hunted farmer’s livestock and then faded back into the rolling woodlands of the area. Exmoor is a British national park located on the Bristol coast of Devon and Somerset, the park is an area of hilly moorland. The beast of Exmoor's attacks were not limited to the park, however, and the neighboring communities of the Brendan Hills suffered many of the beast’s deprivations.

The beast was first reported soon after the Exotic Pets Act was passed in 1976, leading some researchers to conclude that the beast was in fact a black panther or puma that had been released into the wild after it was no longer legal to keep such creatures as pets. In 1983, as many as 80 sheep were said to have been killed by the beast, and five years later in 1988 enough sheep were killed that the Ministry of Agriculture stepped in. The Ministry sent in the royal marines to the Exmoor area, and they conducted a massive search for the creature. Despite a few sightings, the marines were never able to capture the creature.

After the marines failed to capture the beast the Ministry of Agriculture concluded that the beast of Exmoor did not exist, claiming that a fox was responsible for the dead lambs that they examined. The Ministry of Agriculture carried out another study in 1995, but again they concluded that there was no monstrous cat. Since that second study reported sightings of a great cat and livestock deaths attributed to the beast have steadily declined, but there is always a possibility that the Beast of Exmoor will rear its head again.

For a creature that the Ministry of Agriculture denies the very existence of there is a surprising amount of evidence of the Beast of Exmoor. There are reams of eyewitness accounts of the beast, all matching more or less in what they describe, as well as several photographs, some of them remarkably clear. The main problem with the photographic evidence is that the beast is seldom photographed in a frame that shows something that can be used to discover the creature’s size. The creature’s tracks have also been observed.

Does or did the Beast of Exmoor exist? That question will have to remain open for now. While certainly not of earth-shattering historical importance, the fact that the Ministry of Agriculture took enough interest in the beast to investigate it not once but twice should ensure that it will at the least become a historical foot-note, if for no other reason then future generations will be able to laugh at the Ministry for investigating folk-lore as if it were fact, should the evidence eventually prove that no beast has ever existed.


Bord, Janet, and Colin Bord. Unexplained Mysteries of the 20th Century, Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1989

Francis, Di. The Beast of Exmoor, London: Jonathan Cape. 1993

Frasier, Mark ed. Big Cats in Britain Yearbook 2007, London: CFZ, 2007

McEwan, Graham J. Mystery Animals of Britain and Ireland, London: Robert Hale, 1986

Shuker, Karl P.N. Mystery Cats of the World: From Blue Tigers to Exmoor Beasts, London: Robert Hale, 1989

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