[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 25 September, 2003, 09:55 GMT 10:55 UK
Happy end unlikely for operation big cat

By Mark Simpson
Ballybogey, County Antrim

Big cat
North Antrim has become big cat country

The story of "operation big cat" is unlikely to have a happy ending.

Search teams are trying to find the black panther on the loose in north Antrim - but they realise they have more chance of killing it, than catching it.

The animal is about the same size as an Alsatian dog - but it's more muscular and much faster.

Police are looking for it in an area measuring 140 square miles but have narrowed that down to a 10 square mile hotspot, near the village of Ballybogey.

Police Chief Inspector Mark Mason says: "It is like trying to find a needle in a haystack - except this needle has four legs and it's not afraid to use them."

It has been nicknamed the Beast of Ballybogey, and has been at large for at least two months.

A full-scale search involving teams of police officers on the ground, plus a helicopter and spotter-plane, failed to find the animal on Wednesday.

It seems there is another wild animal out there too. A brown-coloured puma is believed to be roaming the hills near Ballycastle.

Hunt 'outcomes'

But it is the hunt for the Ballybogey panther which is attracting most attention.

A briefing note for the search teams, which has been seen by BBC News Online, outlines four possible outcomes:

  • The animal could starve to death
  • It could be caught in a trap
  • It could be tranquilised and then recaptured
  • It could be shot dead by a police marksman

    The panther has apparently been feeding on sheep, and there are thousands in the area, so it seems there is little chance of it going hungry.

    There are no traps set at present but there is a team ready with a tranquiliser gun if needed.

    The problem is, they need to be within a few metres of the animal to have any chance of hitting it.

    There are also police marksmen ready to respond to calls for help.

    It is an unpopular thing for the authorities to say, but the marksmen are more likely to be busy than the tranquiliser team.

    North Antrim is arguably the most scenic part of Northern Ireland. It includes the Giant's Causeway, the famous Royal Portrush golf club and numerous beautiful beaches.

    It is a popular tourist destination, but the big cat is an unwelcome visitor.

    Children's safety

    It has caused deep concern in rural schools like Kilmoyle Primary School in Ballybogey.

    Some parents are worried about their children being attacked.

    One said: "An animal has to survive, it has to eat. It's a worrying time."

    The Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA) is now withdrawing from efforts to track down the big cats, saying they hope they will melt away into background.

    However, police said they would continue to investigate sightings of both the panther and the puma.

    Over the years, many detectives have used the phrase "you can run - but you can't hide".

    That may apply to humans, but, evidently, not to big cats.

    Panther and puma at large
    24 Sep 03  |  Northern Ireland

    The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


    News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
    UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
    Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
    Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific