If you were at Weird Weekend this year, or have read this blog in the past few days or even had much contact with anyone who attended the conference you’ll have heard about the leopard hairs that were identified by Lars. These were not the only evidence of leopards presented at the conference. You might recall that last January Graham and I were called to Duerdon Farm just outside Woolsery where the farmer had found a row of unusual tracks. As the light was fading when we got there the best we could do was take some photographs of the tracks and perform a preliminary examination of the tracks to see if they were potentially anything interesting. They were and we returned the next morning with the cameras once more and this time equipment for making plaster casts.
Before I set off however there was one problem to solve. The tracks may well be frozen in the snow but if I was to use room temperature water to make plaster casts of the tracks they would melt. In order to overcome this I used several large water bottles half filled with ice and snow from our water butts and toped up the remainder of the bottle with cold almost frozen water from deeper in the butts. This worked a treat and meant that the plaster would not melt the prints so I could take extremely accurate and detailed casts.
As well as taking the casts I decided to follow the tracks to see where they led and check any possible places where hair might have come off the animal, while Graham took photographs of the tracks and our casts in situ. Sadly, I was unable to find any hair but I was able to follow the tracks over three fields before they became lost among a well trampled field of sheep. All around the tracks was undisturbed virgin snow save for the occasional bird tracks, a single fox track and the tracks made by the wheals of the tractor when the farmer who had discovered the tracks had come off the road for a closer look.
Upon examination of the prints, tracks and subsequent casts in the daylight I can say with certainty that they were definitely made by a big cat of some sort. There were no claws on any of the prints, the shape of the pad and toes is feline, you cannot draw the typical X shape you can between the toes and pad you can with canines, the foot prints themselves were arranged in groups rather than being equally spaced and there were several prints where the animal’s hind paw had stepped in the same position as the front paw had. All these things are diagnostic of cat prints and all were present.
The fore paws of the animal measured 8 by 9 cm and the hind paws measured 5 by 6 cm and the stride length was 71 cm. These measurements are within the range that you would expect to see from a leopard.
We also write a monthly column for The Bideford Post and we decided that it was about time that we introduced Weird Torridgeside to the blogosphere..