Back in November 2010 I had visited an isolated spot in a dead-end, steep-sided valley, in a forest on the edge of the expanse of Dartmoor. It was the kind of valley that walkers or wanderers don’t visit. It goes nowhere. Unless you have a real reason and the surefootedness of a goat then there really is only one way in and out: through its densely screened mouth. It a sanctuary for wildlife. Away from too many prying eyes.
Early that morning I had dropped down the steep back wall of this canyon. Spending the early hours tracking and stalking deer. On this visit two things puzzled me. I found large prints and I found a carcass. The prints were round with no claw marks. And in moderately soft mud. It could have been a large dog with very short claws (dogs cannot retract their claws like cats) or a cat print. The rear pad was a little indistinct so you could not make out any vertical grooves characteristic of a cat. I still took a plaster cast.
The second thing that puzzled me was that I stumbled across a deer carcass. Not any deer carcass. But one that had been decapitated. Its head lay some 20 yards away. It had a sausage-shaped scat perched atop of it. The scat looked full of deer fur. The main carcass had been entered through the chest/belly and not it’s flank. Canines tend to eat in through the flank. However the carcass was not fresh and had been subsequently scavenged making any accurate judgement impossible for me to do. I was not even sure if the prints, a little distance further up the valley had any relation to this kill.
We don’t have much experience of big cats in this country. As a result it is a struggle to gain enough experience (unless you go abroad) to understand them, their habits and their tracks. However six months later I was to come face to face…….