Britain has its fair share of cryptids. The most famous of them, of course, is the Loch Ness Monster.
There’s no evidence, of course, that “Nessie” exists, although people still love to go hunting and the Loch Ness tour boats are equipped with sonar to watch out for her (Nessie is always referred to as female).
But there’s another cryptid in the UK…ABCs.
ABCs stands for Alien or Anomalous Big Cats, and stories about them show up regularly.
The Various Origins of the ABC
There are a number of theories about what ABCs actually are. They’re generally described as the size of a large dog, black, and aggressive towards livestock (and occasionally people). People have even shown up with injuries after being mauled by one.
There’s a whole bunch of theories:
- They’re lynxes. The Eurasian lynx was certainly around in Britain until a few centuries ago, when we hunted them to extinction whilst cutting down too many trees. The theory is that they aren’t quite extinct. (There’s now a plan in the works to potentially reintroduce the lynx to Scotland to control deer numbers, although obviously the sheep farmers are unamused and it’s unlikely to happen any time soon).
- They’re some kind of ice age relict population that has somehow managed to survive in a highly populated area. (Yeah, I don’t buy this one).
- They’re escaped exotic pets. At least one ABC did turn out to be one; in 1980, a puma was captured alive in Scotland, and it was believed that it was a released pet.
But in Scotland, in 1984, an ABC was trapped…and part of the mystery was solved.
The Kellas Cat
Scotland has wild cats. Specifically, Felis silvestris silvestris, of which there are a few thousand. And while it’s a small cat, Felis silvestris silvestris can be pretty dang big. Large specimens can be three feet long, and I found one instance where a Victorian hunter caught one which was four feet long.
Sounds big enough to be an ABC, except for one thing. ABCs are black. Scottish wildcats are tabby. They have ringed tails, a larger head, etc, but they aren’t black.
People in the UK have traditionally been, shall we say, laissez-faire about feline management. Things are changing, but when I was a child it was definitely considered animal abuse not to let your cat roam outside.
And a lot of these outdoor cats aren’t fixed.
Small cat species hybridize and produce fertile female offspring (the males are infertile).
And guess what color Scottish wildcat x domestic cat hybrids tend to be?
And these hybrid cats tend to be as large as their wildcat kin.
The Kellas cat was identified in 1986 and is considered a landrace. They tend not to make good pets.
But it’s entirely possible that even some of the ABC sightings further south are, in fact, merely the result of a Scottish wildcat and somebody’s domestic tom getting it on.