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New DNA Evidence Might Explain Sightings of “Beast of Cumbria”

Genetic evidence suggests the "beast" might be a big cat, like a panther.

By Cassidy Ward
Harry and the Hendersons (1987)

On their way home from a camping trip, George Henderson (John Lithgow) and his family accidentally struck a passing sasquatch with their car, in the 1987 cryptozoological adventure Harry and the Hendersons. They strap the creature to the top of their station wagon and take him home, believing him to be dead but also the answer to one of our most enduring mysteries and one of the most important scientific discoveries in living memory. Except he isn’t dead, and he isn’t equipped for Suburbia.

So far, we haven’t found any compelling evidence that Bigfoot, or any of the other “ape men” from around the world for that matter, actually exists. But there are plenty of other cryptids to go around. English folklore, like that of many cultures around the world, is awash with stories of unconfirmed and probably fanciful creatures. There are famous examples, like the dinosaur-like monster of Loch Ness, but every corner of the map seems to have a beast of its very own.

In Dartmoor, in the southeast of the country, locals have reported sightings of a large cat-like creature dubbed the Beast of Dartmoor, leaving dead animals in its wake for decades. It turned out those sightings were legitimate, the result of a zoo owner who released three pumas into the wild in the ‘70s, an act which was legal at the time. Similar creatures have been sighted in other places often enough to earn themselves names like the Black Beast of Exmoor, the Beast of Bodmin Moor, and the Beast of Cumbria. While an air of mystery still surrounds many of these alleged creatures, scientists may be close to identifying the Beast of Cumbria.

For More on Crytpids:
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10 Monsters from Around the World That Will Terrify You
Could Underwater’s Monsters Really Exist Deep in the Mariana Trench?

DNA Evidence Suggests a Big Cat Might Be the Beast of Cumbria 

Black panther (Panthera pardus) shrouded in darkness.

The locals in Cumbria, like those in Dartmoor, have reported sightings of a cat-like beast emerging in the dark of night to eat farm animals. Short of brief sightings and dead farm animals, little evidence exists supporting the presence of a beast. That changed in 2023, when Sharon Larkin-Snowden collected a DNA swab from a dead sheep (alleged to be a victim of the beast) and sent it to podcaster Rick Minter. Minter then passed it on to Robin Allaby, a biologist at the University of Warwick, according to the BBC.

Minter had sent DNA swabs to Allaby several times in the past and they always came back as something mundane, but this time was different. The recovered DNA suggested the sheep had been consumed by at least two predators. Some of the DNA came from a fox, but Allaby got another hit, from an unknown big cat species.

The amount of big cat DNA on the swab was scant, part of the reason Allaby thinks it’s legitimate. "If this were a fake, I would expect plenty of DNA to be present in order that we would be sure to find it," Alibi told the BBC. "It would be very difficult to plant just a few molecules with any finesse – I don’t think I could do it, let alone a lay person."

It also means there wasn’t enough material to identify the species. It’s a compelling piece of evidence but not enough to positively confirm or identify the Beast of Cumbria. Maybe that’s for the best; if we learned anything from Harry’s brief visit with the Hendersons, it’s that sometimes the best thing we can do is let a mystery remain a mystery.

Catch Harry and the Hendersons available from Universal Pictures!

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