It’s the story everyone has been talking about since the latest Am Pàipear was published at the beginning of the month. Could there really be a panther roaming in the wild on North Uist? Some readers have reacted with skepticism or amusement…others are not so sure. Am Pàipear here publishes the full collection of images received from those who spotted the strange creature on the Committee Road so as to try and give a fuller understanding of what they saw and what it may be…
Here is the story as told in your latest Am Pàipear. Scroll down for images…
These exclusive never-before-seen pictures capture the moment a group of birdwatchers spotted a very large “panther-like” cat close to Sollas on North Uist…
Members of the Glamorgan Bird Club from Wales were rounding off a successful week of birdwatching when they spotted a creature they never expected to see in their wildest dreams.
On the final day of their trip – Friday 21st May – the group set up their base at the viewing point on the Committee Road near Sollas. With telescopes and binoculars trained towards the old plantation on the west side of the road, the club members were enjoying great views of the resident raptors.
Then – in a moment they can still scarcely believe – their eyes were caught by the sight of a large black animal prowling close to the perimeter fence encircling the woodland. Unbelievable as it sounds, what the birders firmly believe they saw was a panther.
Quickly grabbing their cameras, some members of the group were able to take pictures – published here in Am Pàipear for the first time – which although shot at a distance and therefore slightly blurry, give a solid impression of the size and form of the creature.
Club member Adrian Meredith – who was on his first visit to the islands and enjoying the opportunity to view rare birds he had never seen before – describes the unlikely encounter with the panther in vivid detail.
“We had been there a week,” he recalled.
“Our base was Nunton House Hostel, but we travelled all over each day. On our final day on the islands we made our way to the viewing point on the Committee Road. We had been there for a while and had seen a Golden Eagle, a Sea Eagle and a Hen Harrier. Then we looked up towards the plantation and saw this huge cat. There were ten of us there from Glamorgan Bird Club and we all saw the animal.”
He went on to describe how the big cat first appeared, before vanishing and then reappearing.
“It was sitting down at first,” he said.
“Then it disappeared into the undergrowth. We kept watching and about twenty minutes later it reappeared before moving into the woodland.
“We all agreed it was a very big cat. It moved like a cat, and seemed quite powerful. It had a certain muscularity.”
Adrian said that if the cat noticed the nearby presence of people, it did not seem bothered. He described the reaction of the group as one of stunned silence.
“It’s not often you can get a word in edgeways with our group,” he said. “We were all so shocked. We thought the otters were impressive!
“I just can’t understand how it could have got there. In the back of a van maybe? Who knows?”
Adrian’s story matches the account of events given by fellow Glamorgan Bird Club member Alan Woodward.
He said: “It was our final day and our last chance to get some good sightings of raptors. We were all set up with scopes trained when we saw this black beast close to the pine trees in the distance.
“I think we all thought it was a domestic cat – judging by its movements – before we realised it was so big. Then it disappeared out of sight into the long grass and heather.
“Our only conclusion was that we had seen a black panther.”
He went on to recall how the animal reappeared before moving in to the plantation. At this time Alan acted quickly to capture shots of the mysterious creature with his camera.
He continued: “We were trying to work out its size, but nobody was keen to go up and measure the fence posts for comparison.
“When it was in view, it didn’t look our way. It seemed very focussed on what it was doing.”
Asked whether it was possible he and the other group members had made a mistake – that perhaps they had seen and photographed some other animal that appeared like a large cat – Alan says no.
“Some of our group are very experienced birders,” he explained.
“They can identify birds literally from miles away – their eyes are so well trained. They viewed this animal in detail and there was no question in their minds that what they saw was a panther.”
Large cat sightings are not uncommon in Scotland with several reports having been made of “panther-like” creatures spotted in the countryside.
In recent times – perhaps most notably – an off-duty police dog handler captured video footage of a large black cat near railway tracks in Helensburgh in 2009.
In the same year Hercules the Bear was loose on North Uist – 1980 – a puma was captured alive near Inverness. ‘Felicity’ – as she became known – spent the rest of her life in the Highland Wildlife Park.
Although sporadic alleged sightings persist across the UK, it is widely considered implausible that a population of large cats exists undetected in the wild.
As to how a panther could have come to live on North Uist – or otherwise what did Glamorgan Bird Club members photograph on the island – the answer is not clear.