A Mysterious Beast is Stripping Sheep, Has the ‘Skerray Beast’ struck here again?


A large “beast” with a taste for sheep is believed to be roaming the most remote parts of Northern Scotland, stripping sheep from their skin and leaving no trace but bones and wool.  The mysterious beast’s latest catch is a hefty and healthy ewe of about 50kg. Her wool was neatly peeled off her skin before it was eaten. The carcass was found less than 100 yards from a croft in Swordly.  The ewe belonged to Susan Mackay, who is not the first crofter to fall victim of the unknown animal.

“The same pattern is happening over and over. Whatever animal is doing it, it manages to peel the skin off, probably because it doesn’t like the wool, and it skins the sheep in a most expert way – removing the skin along with the wool. “It has a very powerful bite. It crunches right through the bones and kills the animal very easily almost as if the animal was “crushed with great force”.  “It’s very interesting.”

Mr Johnston remembers one instance when two animals were killed in exactly the same way and they were found about 200 yards from each other.  “The first time I was convinced it was a cat but this time I am less certain. The killings are very reminiscent of those a few years ago,” he said, still wondering whether the animal could be something like a puma.  According to Mr Johnston, between 1976 and 1981 there have been numerous killings of sheep attributed to the “cat”. Despite hunts and searches for the animal, the mysterious predator was never found. “People have been telling stories about it, it’s like a joke really although it is very real if it happens to your sheep. “There isn’t much news around here so this is very exciting,” said Mr Johnston.

Older readers may recall that, way back in the halcyon days between 1976 and 1981, the area round Bettyhill and Skerray was haunted by a cat-like animal with a taste for mutton. The creature, which became known as “The Skerray Beast” and now, the people of Farr are wondering if the large puma-like cat has returned. In the late seventies, there were armed hunts for the animal in the Borgie area, on Naver Rock and around Strathy but, though well-formed footprints were found both in sand and in snow, neither keepers, nor crofters nor police marksmen were ever able to get close enough to take a good shot at the creature or even to identify it positively.

In Swordly on a year or so ago where a former cattleman Andy McLachlan was lamping for foxes. Turning his light on a patch of thin woodland, about 200 yards away across the Swordly Burn, he picked up a pair of extraordinarily bright eyes between the trees. Thinking this to be a fox, Andy switched his search beam off and gave a couple of peeps on his “squeaker”, a form of home-made whistle intended to emulate the sound of an injured rabbit or hare and which lampers use to lure the fox towards the gun. After a couple of minutes he put the lamp on again and, sure enough, the owner of the eyes was moving towards him. Only it wasn’t a fox but a sturdy long tailed cat about the size of a springer spaniel and now only 125 yards away. This was still a little far for a good shot, so he switched off and waited before lamping for the third time, whereupon the approaching feline bounded off in great leaps quite unlike anything Andy had ever seen before. Andy has been continued to lamp in the area. In recent days he has had a further glimpse of a fast moving creature, this time on the high rocky ridge that separates Swordly from the A836, but was unable to determine whether this was the same animal.

Andy McLachlan with the remnants of the skinned and eaten sheep.

Meanwhile, sheep belonging to Swordly crofter, George B. Mackay, currently working offshore, were being fed on the hill overlooking the glen by George’s son Liam, an apprentice engineer. When Liam went to replenish the ring feeder on a fortnight ago, he found the remains of the carcass of one of his father’s sheep just a few feet from the feeding site. Like the carcasses of the victims of the “Skerray Beast” of 30-odd years ago, it had been cleanly flayed leaving nothing but its hide and its skeleton to decay in to the heather. As the feeding was done on a weekly basis, it was possible that the kill was up to a week old but, however long it had taken to strip the unfortunate sheep of its skin and to the bone, the end result was astonishingly reminiscent of the carcasses from all those years ago.


Whatever the eventual outcome may be there are startling parallels between what has been happening in Swordly in recent weeks and what happened over a very wide area many years ago.

Maybe, this time, the mystery of the “beast” will be solved. In the 1980s, sporadic sightings of the sheep-eating creature were reported and in 2012, one man claimed to have seen the animal between trees.  In an article released in April 2018 it stated that the govt figures for “sheep killed by dogs” was 15,000.  These sheep kills remind me of the sheep mutilations found all across the UK by hikers and wild campers.



Until Next Time, Deborah

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