A frightful Dartmoor tail
We're kicking off Halloween in style with a locally sourced legend.
Tales of big cats roaming the Westcountry are nothing new. Every moorland is littered with sightings and legends going back centuries. There is however, one particular tail that beggar’s belief. And it just so happens to have happened right on Plymouth’s doorstep.
Dartmoor Zoo owner, Benjamin Mee, has said in interviews that he has seen elusive big cats roaming the area around the zoo.
As an experienced keeper of exotic animals and even big cats, Ben has spoken of one night that confirmed his suspicions forever.
On a dark night, Ben was travelling back to the village of Sparkwell at around midnight. He had gone to pick up his brother from the train station. Then suddenly, he saw what he initially thought was a deer by the side of the road. He slowed the car down, fearing the deer might jump out. But as the car creeped closer, it was clear that this “big and muscular” animal was no deer at all.
He and his brother “both swore” and said the same thing at the same time without any hesitation. . . “puma!”
There was no doubt about it, one of his two pumas had escaped, he thought. Concerned over the situation he then "got out the car and went to have a look” he said in a 2019 interview. “Do we chase a Puma in the dark - in the woods”, he asked.
Ben chose to go back to the zoo to “see what the damage was”. After rushing back, both the zoo’s pumas were there, with no damage to the enclosure. It was clear. That was not his puma on the road.
In the same interview, he explained: “What we think we saw was a young male puma, between 3 and 10 years old.”
In the morning Ben spoke to the zookeepers who seemed unphased by the seemingly tall tale. They, as many others do, seemed to know all about rumours that perhaps a former owner of the zoo had let wild cats free in the village.
Another unfounded yet prominent rumour, that Ben has heard, is that when the Plymouth Zoo closed in 1978, five pumas were sent to go to Dartmoor Zoo. However, as local folklore suggests, “only three ever arrived.”
Learn more about this fascinating account in this interview series:
All weekend Dartmoor Zoo will be celebrating Halloween in style with their Mythical Creatures and Legends area.
For more information, tickets and please click here.