Phantom cats or Alien Big Cats (ABCs) are exotic felids reported roaming in areas they are not native to. The term also applies to widespread but unconfirmed reports of unknown big cats allegedly roaming a region.
Such animals are phantom cats because people report they sighted them, but authorities don’t have evidence they exist.
Reports have come from many regions of the world, especially countries of Western Europe, such as the U.K., France, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden.
Reports have also come from North America, China, Australia, and New Zealand.
The United Kingdom
The United Kingdom (the U.K.) has a long history of alleged sightings of out-of-place or exotic big cats.
Big cats such as leopards, lions, tigers, cougars, or panthers are not indigenous to the U.K. Thus, reports of such bigs cats roaming the moors in remote regions of the country are examples of phantom cats or Alien Big Cats (ABCs).
The Beast of Bodmin Moor
The Beast of Bodmin Moor is one of the best-known phantom cats from the U.K.
Reports of a mysterious cryptid known as the Beast of Bodmin Moor originated in the northeastern part of Cornwall in the early 1980s. Reports also came from Devon.
Locals claimed the alleged big cat attacked, killed, and mutilated livestock and pets. Many also reported sighting the beast. Alleged eyewitnesses described it as a felid resembling a black panther or a leopard.
It was supposedly fierce. It had large canine teeth and eyes, which glowed red or yellow in the dark.
So persistent were the reports that some investigators suggested that a small population of exotic big cats was on the loose in surrounding moors.
The U.K. Ministry of Agriculture investigated claims that people who illegally kept exotic cats native to the Americas, Africa, and Asia as pets might have released them after they grew too big for indoors. Some believed the mysterious cats might have been exotic big cats that escaped from zoos.
A theory gained traction in the late 1980s and early 1990s that licensed big cat breeders, such as circus menageries, might have deliberately or accidentally released big cats to roam the countryside.
The rumor centered particularly on claims that a prominent big cat trainer Mary Chipperfield (Mary Rose Cawley), released some of her pumas after closing down her Plymouth Zoo in the late 1970s.
China’s Maltese Tiger
One of the best-known examples of a phantom cat from Asia was the Maltese tiger, also known as the blue tiger or Amoy tiger. The Maltese tiger is allegedly a color variant of the South China tiger (Panthera tigris tigris).
Persistent and widespread but unverified reports of the blue tiger have come from South China, Myanmar, Korea, and Burma since early in the last century. But while some scientists conceded that Maltese tigers might exist, no one provided proof.
However, cryptozoologists argued that the difficulty in obtaining evidence of the existence of the Maltese tiger was understandable because widespread poaching that led to the depletion of the South China tiger population also likely wiped out the variant genes (alleles) responsible for blue morphs within the population.
The last time anyone sighted a South China tiger in the wild was in the 1980s. Thus, while wildlife authorities list the subspecies as critically endangered, some experts believe they are already extinct in the wild.
The widespread poaching that led to the depletion of the South China tiger population was due to the international trade in their fur, known as Amoy fur.
Australia has rich phantom cat folklore dating back to the early 1900s.
The Grampians puma
According to a Deakin University (Victoria, Australia) study, American troops brought cougars to the Grampians Mountain area of Australia as mascots during World War II.
They presumably brought juvenile cats they could easily handle. But the cats grew big and thus inconvenient to handle or transport. So they released them in the Australian bush in the Grampians region of southwest Victoria.
The Gippsland phantom cat
There were also reports of World War II American troops introducing exotic cat mascots in the Gippsland region of southeastern Victoria.
The Goldfields puma
Pumas allegedly roamed areas along the Great Dividing Range of New South Wales, Australia.
Some researchers believe they were descendants of pumas brought to the region by American gold miners during the mid-19th century gold rush.
Blue Mountains Panther
The Blue Mountains panther is one of the best-known phantom cats from Australia.
Alleged sightings of the creature in the Blue Mountains region of New South Wales date back to the early 1900s.
Some residents captured footage of a panther-like big cat allegedly prowling near Lithgow, New South Wales. But some experts thought it was likely a big-sized domestic cat.
Reports from the Blue Mountains region could also be due to cats descended from World War II military mascots and individuals that escaped from zoos or circuses.
The Tantanoola Tiger
The Tantanoola tiger was a phantom cat that allegedly roamed the area around Tantanoola Town in South Australia in the late 1800s.
Tom Donovan, a native of Nelson on the Glenelg River, reportedly shot the creature with his Winchester rifle in August 1895. But instead of a tiger or big cat, it turned out to be a wolf-like creature.
Some said it was an Arabian wolf (Canis lupus arabs), but many believed it was a Siberian Wolf (Canis lupus).
However, the consensus is that Donovan’s “tiger” was a Thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus), also known as the Tasmanian Tiger or Tasmanian wolf.
However, after Donovan killed and exhibited the animal, reports of a tiger roaming the region continued.
Sightings and Tales
The Beast of Bodmin Moor sightings
There were reports of the Beast of Bodmin Moor from Cornwall in the 1980s. A government investigation found no verifiable evidence of big cats in Cornwall.
Later in 1955, a boy found a felid skull along the River Fowey in Cornwall. Experts determined it belonged to a male leopard. They concluded that someone brought the skull to the U.K. from a tropical country after the creature died, meaning it did not live or die in the U.K.
In 1998, reports of big cat-like beasts mutilating livestock and pets came from Cornwall and Devon. Footage also emerged that purportedly showed the beast.
In 2013, a resident, Sid Yate, reported sighting a cat on Four Lanes near Redruth town. The eyewitness said it looked like a black labrador but had cat-like features.
In 2015, another resident reported seeing a cat-like beast in her garden on the outskirts of Plymouth city in Cornwall.
Later in 2016, John Parkinson, a resident of Newquay, found large paw prints at a clay pit near Nanpean and Whitemoor in St Austell.
Felicity the puma
In 1980, farmer Ted Noble captured a female puma in a cage trap near Cannich in the Strathglass region of the Highlands of Scotland, west of Inverness.
Noble constructed a cage trap and baited it with sheep offal after he had lost some of his flock to a creature he believed to be a big cat. He took matters into his hand out of frustration that the authorities did not take local reports of big cat sightings seriously.
The cat turned out to be a tame puma. It likely escaped from captivity, or the owner released her into the wild.
The authorities relocated the puma, named Felicity, to Highland Wildlife Park near Kingussie, where she died in 1985.
Maltese tiger sighting
The best-known alleged eyewitness description of the Maltese tiger came from Harry Caldwell, a Tennessean who served as a missionary of the Methodist Church among rural communities in the Fujian Province of China in the early 1900s.
He described his encounter with the rare animal in his book Blue Tiger, published in 1924.
Caldwell claimed he encountered the Maltese tiger while tracking a man-eating tiger in the bush near Fuzhou in 1910. He described it as a stunning creature with a grayish-blue coat (Maltese) overlaid with black or dark gay stripes.
The coat color turns a lighter shade toward the animal’s belly.
|Other Name/s||Alien Big Cats (ABCs)|
|Location||Australia, China, United Kingdom,|
|Habitat||Countryside, Farmland, Forest|
Where to find
Mystery Cats of the World: From Blue Tigers to Exmoor Beasts, Karl P. N. Shuker, 1989.
Blue Tiger, Harry R. Caldwell (1924).
https://www.theguardian.com/society/2006/mar/22/guardiansocietysupplement6, “Seeing is believing,” accessed on April 2, 2023.
https://web.archive.org/web/20071113043212/http://www.smh.com.au/media/2003/11/02/1067597215449.html, “Is something out there?” accessed on April 2, 2023.
https://www.news.com.au/technology/science/animals/the-grisly-mystery-of-the-murderous-tantanoola-tiger/news-story/ac9051acbddebcb9baf850f70501d095, “The grisly mystery of the murderous Tantanoola Tiger,” accessed on April 2, 2023.
https://exemplore.com/cryptids/Alien-Big-Cats-Phantom-Cats-Around-the-World, “Big Cat Sightings in Britain and Australia,” accessed on April 2, 2023.
https://www.cornwalllive.com/news/cornwall-news/evidence-beast-bodmin-could-actually-692191, “This is the evidence the Beast of Bodmin could actually be haunting Bodmin Moor and Cornwall,” accessed on March 7, 2023.
Featured Image: Phantom cats are exotic big cats sighted in areas they are not native to. Pic credit: Pixabay