Total Eclipse: A Once-in-a-Lifetime Festival of Science, Music, and Celestial Wonder. August 19–21, 2017 in Eastern Oregon.

The Mystery of the ‘Beast of Dartmoor’ Has (Apparently) Been Solved

Big cats had been spotted in the English park for three decades—but no one knew why.

(Photo: Greg Hume/CC BY-SA 3.0)

For years, blurry photographs and reported sightings of a big cat in Dartmoor, a massive southwestern English park, have emerged. There were also the dead animals that would pop up from time to time, gored by some type of beast. 

And while it was usually thought to be a big cat of some kind, no one could ever quite figure out what. Big cats are not native to the area, and none were known to exist in the park before sightings of a mysterious animal emerged in the 1980s, later to be christened the Beast of Dartmoor.

But on Thursday, the Telegraph said they’d cracked the case. The Beast of Dartmoor, the newspaper reports, was probably several beasts of Dartmoor, and originated in 1978, after a circus owner named Mary Chipperfield released them into the wild. 

Why? The zoo Chipperfield ran in nearby Plymouth was shutting down, and Chipperfield, then a well-known animal trainer, opted to release her favorite pumas—two males and a female—into the wild rather than force them to adapt to a new home. Two other pumas were transferred to a zoo inside Dartmoor. (Years later, the story behind that zoo’s revival would inspire the 2011 movie We Bought a Zoo.)

Chipperfield also apparently broke no crimes in the process—releasing exotic animals into the wild was not a crime in England until 1981, according to the Telegraph. So her plan, such as it was, apparently worked, and all this time the Beast of Dartmoor was nothing more than a few pumas, who, like the rest of us, were just trying to get by.