For decades, the British Isles have played host to a decidedly mysterious and marauding beast. It has become known as the “Alien Big Cat,” or the ABC. Some cryptozoolgists and monster-hunters suggest the puzzle is an even older one, maybe even dating back centuries. Regardless of when, exactly, the controversy began, the fact is that, pretty much every year, dozens upon dozens of reports surface of large cats roaming the wilder – and sometimes the not so wild – parts of Britain. Very often, the cats are described as being huge, muscular and black in color. This has given rise to the term “black panther,” which is actually incorrect, but frequently used by both the public and the press. It would be far more correct to suggest the creatures are probably leopards and jaguars displaying significant melanism – a condition in which there is an excess of a black pigment known as melanin. As for how such creatures have come to be seen across pretty much the entirety of the British Isles, the theories are as many as they are varied. Some researchers hold that the animals have escaped from private zoos and enclosures and are now living and thriving very nicely in the nation’s woods and forests. Others suggest that back in 1976, when the British Government significantly altered the rules and regulations governing the keeping of large, predatory animals, the owners of such cats – who couldn’t afford to pay the new fees – secretly released their pets into the wild. And, today, so the theory goes, what people are seeing are the descendants of those large cats set free in the 1970s.
Other theories are far more controversial: one suggests the ABCs may have been with us since roughly AD 43, when invading Roman forces brought large cats to Britain in the form of mascots. Did some of those mascots escape and manage to survive and breed, largely undetected? Some say: Yes. Then there is the highly-charged theory that Britain has in its midst an unidentified indigenous cat – one that science and zoology have yet to recognize or categorize. Whatever the answer to the question of the origins of Britain’s ABCs, the fact is that their presence is pretty much accepted by the general public and the media – although largely not by the government, which prefers to play down the matter whenever and wherever possible. But they are not literal monsters: they’re simply regular animals, albeit seen in distinctly out of place environments, correct? Well…maybe not. They just might be monsters, after all. Although many ABC researchers cringe and squirm when the matter is brought up, the fact is there are more than a few reports on record that place the ABCs in a category that is less flesh and blood-based and far more paranormally-themed. There are cases of the ABCs vanishing – literally – before the eyes of astonished witnesses. People report large black cat encounters in old graveyards, within ancient stone circles, and even – on a few occasions – in association with UFO sightings. Whatever the truth of the matter, the ABCs of the UK aren’t going away anytime soon.
Throughout history, folklore and mythology, one can find accounts of shape-shifting creatures, with the most famous example surely being the werewolf. The deadly monster of the full moon is far from being alone, however. In Africa, there are legends of werehyenas. Wererats have been reported in Oregon. Cynanthropy is a condition in which a person believes they can shape-shift into the form of a dog. And then there are werecats. Tales of werecats exist in numerous locations: South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. Sometimes the werecats are nothing less than transformed humans. Leopards, lions, tigers and jaguars are typically the werecat forms into which a human shape-shifter mutates. Others are regular cats, altered by dark magic into something hostile and terrible. All of which brings us back to the werecats of Britain.
The earliest case I have on file dates from 1953, specifically the month of August. The location: Abbots Bromley, a village in the English county of Staffordshire; the origins of which date back to at least AD 942. The witness was a now-deceased man, Brian Kennerly. In 2002, Kennerly’s family told me of how he often spoke of the occasion when, as he walked through Abbots Bromley on what was a warm, summer’s night, he was confronted by a large black cat – one that he described as the typical “black panther.” Not surprisingly, Kennerly was frozen in his tracks. His amazement turned to outright fear when the beast suddenly rose up onto its back limbs, giving it a height of around five and a half feet. The creature reportedly issued a low growl and flicked its dangling front paws in Kennerly’s direction. Notably, Kennerly’s daughter told me her father said that as the ABC rose up, “its back legs changed shape, probably to support it when it was standing upright.” A few seconds later, the creature dropped back to the ground and bounded out of sight.
A similar report, this one from the centuries-old village of Blakeney – in the English county of Norfolk – occurred in 1967. In this case, the witness, who was driving to Blakeney on a cold, winter’s night, caught a brief glimpse of a creature standing at the side of the road that was eerily similar to the one seen by Brian Kennerly fourteen years previously. In this case, the woman said: “It stood like a person, but stooped, but had a cats head. Even the pointed ears.”The final two cases in my files are separated by seven years – 1981 and 1988 – but the location was the same: the German War Cemetery located within the heavily wooded Cannock Chase, Staffordshire. The Chase has long been a hotbed for weirdness: Bigfoot-type creatures, werewolves, huge serpents, ghosts, UFOs and much more of a supernatural nature have been reported in the depths of the Chase.
As for the two reports of werecat-type creatures seen at the cemetery, one was a daytime event involved a beast that was black in color, taller than the average man, and seen leaning on one of the gravestones. That is, until it realized it was being watched and it dropped to all-fours and raced off into the trees. The second case concerned a van-driver crossing the Chase late at night and who was forced to bring his vehicle to a halt – very near the cemetery - as a result of the presence in the road of a huge black cat. It was a cat that stared intently at the shocked driver, until it “sort of jumped onto its back legs.” According to the man, Don Allen, the creature remained in view for no more than about twenty seconds, after which it headed towards the cemetery, making a curious “hopping and bouncing” movement as it did so. Are infernal werecats really roaming the British Isles? Granted, the number of reports is small. And yet, the witnesses – and, in the case of Briain Kennerly, his family – are adamant that what they encountered were large, black, upright cats that displayed vaguely human characteristics. Perhaps the old myths and legends are not just folklore after all. Just maybe, the monstrous werecat really does roam the old landscapes of the British Isles.
The phenomenon of were-cats – people who can transform themselves into cat-like creatures, and cats that have the ability to change their forms – is widespread. Tales of the creatures can be found in such diverse locations as Europe, Asia, both South and Latin America, and Africa. I have collected a number of notable cases from the United Kingdom, where I lived until 2001. One such case, a particularly memorable and weird one, came from “James.” He is a now-retired fireman who encountered just such a creature on a bright, summer morning in 1978, and who I met in Exeter, England in the summer of 2001. At the time, James was living in Exwick, which is a town in the English county of Devon, and which is noted for its long history of encounters with Phantom Black Dogs. To what extent that is relevant is a matter of debate, but it is intriguing.
According to James, on the day in question he was out walking with his spaniel dog, Sammy, on the Haldon Hills, which provide an expansive view of the area, including the nearby city of Exeter. As James and Sammy took a pleasant walk through the hills they found themselves confronted by a very strange animal. It was Sammy who alerted James to the fact that something weird was about to go down. As they pair took their daily stroll, Sammy suddenly came to a complete halt and began to growl. It was clear she had picked up on something strange. At first, James thought that perhaps she had picked up the scent of a rabbit or a fox – although, as James admitted, Sammy had not reacted like that before when rabbits were around.
In seconds, the cause of Sammy’s behavior became apparent: around fifty or sixty feet away a large black animal rose out of the deep grass. At first James assumed it was a black Labrador. It was not. In mere seconds, James realized that what was walking towards him and his faithful pet was a large black cat that resembled a mountain lion. Sammy whimpered and James’ heart thumped. When the animal reached a point around twenty feet from the terrified pair, something that provoked even more terror: the huge cat rose up onto its back legs; they were legs which appeared to physically change as it transformed from a four-legged animal to a bipedal one. But, that was not the weirdest part of the story.
As James looked on, pretty much frozen to the spot with fear, the face of the cat began to change and took on a malevolent, human-like appearance. A strange and sinister grin dominated the face, as the beast did nothing more than stand and stare at James and Sammy. James told me it was the terrible grin that finally made him realize that it was time to leave – as in immediately. As Sammy was only four months old at the time, it was easy for James to scoop her up, under his arm and get the hell off the hills. He looked back twice: on the first occasion the cat-human was standing just as it had been thirty seconds or so earlier. On the second look, however, it was gone. By James’ own admission, he and Sammy did not take another walk on the Haldon Hills for around three months.
It may not be a coincidence that in 1996, Jonathan Downes – the director of the Center for Fortean Zoology – investigated a wave of sightings of a strange, large, cat-like animal on the Haldon Hills. Downes related the facts in his 2004 book, Monster Hunter. Most of the encounters occurred in the vicinity of an old pet cemetery, which housed (and still houses) the remains of numerous, beloved, long gone old friends. Downes did not solve the mystery, but he did come away from the investigation fully convinced that the Haldon Hills were home to something dangerous and predatory. James’ were-cat? Don’t bet against it.
A second case reached me in 2013 from “Jennifer,” who lives in Oregon. Jennifer’s encounter occurred in her small hometown – the name of which she prefers to keep out of the story – in the fall of 2011. It was late on a Friday night, and Jennifer had been hanging out with an old girlfriend, who she had not seen for a few months. Laughs and a few drinks were the order of the night. The laughs were, however, destined to come to a sudden, shuddering end. It was not long after midnight that Jennifer left her friend’s apartment. And although the two had not seen each other for several months, they only lived approximately a ten-minute walk from each other – the lack of contact having been due to the fact that her friend had been on a temporary work assignment in Florida. So, given the close proximity to Jennifer’s apartment, she decided to take a walk home - the quiet town hardly being a hotbed of crime or muggings.
Only a couple of minutes before she reached her own abode, Jennifer saw what she assumed was a large black dog walking towards her, on the sidewalk – an assumption identical to the experience of James, back in 1978, on the Haldon Hills. As the creature got closer, Jennifer was horrified to see it was actually a significantly-sized cat. As in the size of a jaguar. Jennifer was about to make a run for cover – but to where, at that time of night, she admitted she had no idea – when the cat suddenly stood upright, changed its appearance and ran across the road, at a phenomenal speed, and vanished into an alley on the other side of the road. Notably, Jennifer said that the cat did not lose its black color as it changed into human form – nor did it lose its cat-like head. It was, according to Jennifer, something that appeared half-human and half-cat. A definitive were-cat.