Owner of missing lynx zoo admits they released pumas into the wild in the 1980s
- Sightings of big cats were rubbished by police and animal experts
- But admission of released pumas backs up theory behind the 'Beast'
- It's believed two generations lived on moors before dying from the cold
Pumas were once released into the wild by the same zoo who recently lost a lynx, the current owner admitted today. Over the years dozens of sightings of mysterious big cats in the West Country gave rise to the legend of the Beast of Dartmoor. Police and animal experts historically rubbished the claims despite the beliefs of locals.
Over the years dozens of sightings of mysterious big cats in the West Country gave rise to the legend of the Beast of Dartmoor. Police and animal experts historically rubbished the claims (file image of a puma)
But now, after the escape of Flaviu the lynx from Dartmoor Zoo two weeks ago, owner Benjamin Mee has revealed that wild big cats did roam the area for over 30 years.
He confirmed a pack of pumas were 'released' from the zoo during the 1980s.
They lived on the surrounding land, terrorising farmers and their livestock while feeding on scraps of rubbish in the village.
Ben claims he even said he saw one of the beasts prowling the village himself when he bought the zoo ten years ago.
He said: 'Puma were released in the Sparkwell area in the 1980s and there were many sightings of puma in this area up until 2010.
'I even saw one when I first came here in 2006.
'They used to come out into the village. I saw one by a crossing.
'The farmers don't want the publicity and wouldn't tell you this if you asked but there were a lot of animals lost to the pumas during those years.'
It wasn't until the winter of 2010 - the coldest for years - that Ben believes the pumas were wiped out and there have been no reported sightings since.
Owner Benjamin Mee has revealed that wild big cats did roam the Dartmoor area for over 30 years. He confirmed a pack of pumas were 'released' from the zoo during the 1980s
He added: 'I think two whole generations of pumas managed to live on the moor until the winter of 2010.
'When the weather got so cold, they all died.'
Since Ben made his claims, Herman Welch, 75, of Plymouth, Devon, has come forward to claim he was nearly mowed down by a 'black panther' near the zoo in 2004.
He claims he reported the incident to Dartmoor Zoo and the authorities at the time - but no-one believed him.
He said: 'I was driving on my way to Sparkwell when this thing jumped out right in front of me, less than six feet away.
The big cats revelation comes as the search for Flaviu (pictured) enters its second week. The search team have repositioned larger humane traps to catch the two-year-old Carpathian
'It stopped and looked right at me and then ran off into the woods.
'I stayed for a while and was hoping somebody would have been driving behind me, but no-one was around.
'I got to the golf course and I said 'I've just seen a bloody panther jump in front of me' and my friends just laughed and said 'Hermann, don't be daft.'
'No-one believed me. They said 'if a panther was roaming around here, Hermann, half the town would be out looking for it.'
The big cats revelation comes as the search for Flaviu enters its second week.
The search team have repositioned larger humane traps to catch the two-year-old Carpathian and a recording of its mother has now been broadcast across the moor in an attempt to locate the animal.
A public appeal has also been launched by the zoo for camera equipment to help keep tabs on the missing lynx around the clock.