Wales may be known as the land of the dragon, but it’s also been home to a number of different creatures that have been spotted roaming the countryside over the years.
From mystical big cats to captured raccoon dogs, there’s always a chance that you might spot something unusual while out for a Welsh walk.
While some sightings merely add to the intrigue around exactly what is living in the wild in Wales, others have come at a cost to farmers who have found some of their livestock killed in a mysterious and sometimes brutal fashion.
READ MORE: The giant fish, weird skeletons and sharks seen on Welsh beaches
Below we take a look back at some of the unusual animals that have made the headlines in Wales in recent times, and the affect they had on people. WARNING: Some of the images in this article you may find distressing.
The raccoon dog of west Wales
On May 27, 2020, a member of the public first reported a sighting of a raccoon dog in a rural part of Carmarthenshire, near the village of Pumsaint.
The animal, which is part of the canine family despite its raccoon-like appearance, is considered an “invasive species” that can be “harmful to wildlife”, and is native to the forests of China, Japan, Korea, Siberia and Vietnam. While it is not illegal to keep a raccoon dog as a pet, the RSPCA “strongly discourages people” from doing so, and the public were urged not to approach the animal as it made its home in Carmarthenshire.
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The RSPCA also warned that “raccoon dogs are not domesticated pets and they’re also extremely smelly, as they use scent to communicate with one another”.
Seven weeks after it was first spotted, Carmarthenshire’s raccoon dog was caught and killed after Natural Resources Wales took “swift action” after a request from the Welsh Government, which “has a duty under EU legislation” to apply rapid measures to remove them.
The decision to put down the creature, rather than have it re-homed, was widely criticised at the time, with one animal lover saying: “This is absolutely shocking – why the need to kill the poor animal?”, and another asking: “Why was it killed? Couldn’t it have been re-homed in a zoo or in an animal shelter?”
One animal sanctuary in Lincolnshire even said they would have gladly taken in the raccoon dog. A spokesman for Ark Wildlife Park said: “It’s a massive shame that the raccoon dog, also known as a tanuki, was destroyed as he would have posed no threat to the public.
“In fact, we had a similar situation last year with a tanuki that had either escaped or been abandoned by a previous owner. We were called in to find and capture him as he was loose on a housing estate, where he had been for some time without incident.
“We successfully captured him and he now lives happily here with our other raccoon dogs – we could have given the tanuki in Wales a loving home.”
The panther(s) of Pembrokeshire
In the run-up to Christmas, 2010, farmers in rural Tir Croes and Princes Gate in Pembrokeshire were on high alert after a pedigree sheep was savagely killed in a field. Experts said at the time that the death could not have been caused by a large dog.
Days later a local farm worker spotted what he described as a large, panther-like cat while driving near his home. The following day, he found a huge paw print right next to the carcass of a dead calf on his land.
“All its insides were stripped out, and there was a massive paw print by the side,” the farm worker said.
“The previous evening, while I was driving, I caught the reflection of a big cat’s eyes in the headlights of my car. I kept driving closer and closer and it kept getting bigger and bigger. I knew straight away it was the big black cat that people have been talking about. It slipped straight past the car.”
A big cat consultant and expert, Danny Nineham, said at the time: “It’s impossible to say whether a black cat has taken these animals in Pembrokeshire without investigating the land, carcass, environment, and looking for faeces.”
However, he added: “I can say that there are a lot of big cats in west Wales, I’ve seen them myself, and investigated a number of sightings in Pembrokeshire. We’ve got leopards, black leopards or panthers, pumas, American bobcats, you name it.”
Three years later, in 2013, another farmer in the same area was convinced a panther-like creature had struck again, saying that eight of his sheep had been “completely eaten”. As a result he stopped his children from roaming the countryside.
Find images from Wales’s past here:
A year later, in 2014, a Pembrokeshire farmer said he was left “shaking for about two hours” after coming face to face with what he was convinced was a panther in Pembrokeshire.
“I was putting away our animals when I heard a bit of a commotion with the geese,” he said.
“I saw a big black animal, I went towards it and then realised what it was. He looked at me and I looked at him and then he shot off with a 30lb goose in his mouth. He didn’t expect to see me there and I didn’t expect to see him. I was shaking for about two hours after. It was beautiful but it’s a bit scary that this thing is running around loose. I’ve seen panthers in the zoo – that’s what it was.”
Elsewhere in south Wales, there were 17 sightings of big cats in the South Wales Police and Gwent Police areas alone in the space of just three years.
The agitated bull of Cross Hands
In December 2017 a “dangerous” bull escaped from an abattoir in Cross Hands, between Carmarthen and Cross Hands.
The animal had made a run for it from a local meat processing facility and found itself on a main road. Police officers arrived at the scene and closed the road, warning residents to stay indoors as the bull was described as “extremely agitated” and represented a threat to the public.
Police said that “a number of options to safely contain and deal with the bull were considered”, but after listening to advice from experts the decision was taken to humanely destroy the animal.
The ‘Beast of Pontybodkin’
Earlier this year, a man and his daughter spotted what they thought was either a puma or a panther in the village of Pontybodkin in Flintshire.
They captured the creature on video as it made its way across a field.
Speaking to North Wales Live, the man said: “My daughter and I were out walking the dog, about five minutes from the house on the main road.
“We had just been talking about the so-called ‘Beast of Pontybodkin’ and when my daughter looked up, she said ‘look at that dad’. I told her to film it, so she got her phone out and started to video it. My daughter asked if I’d ever seen anything before and I said I’d been walking down there all my life and I’d never seen hide nor hair.
“And then, all of a sudden, there it is – right in front of us. Had we not got it on film, I think I’d have thought I imagined it.”
This sighting in Pontybodkin came after several other reports of big cats being spotted in the same area. One resident claimed he saw one while cycling home. He said: “It was huge and it was fast. It was definitely a puma or a panther – a big black thing with a massive tail.”
The ‘large blob’ of Broad Haven
In February this year, a mysterious looking ‘large blob’ measuring 23 feet long and missing a head washed up on a Welsh beach.
The creature appeared on Broad Haven South beach in Pembrokeshire and left experts scratching their heads. At first they thought it was a whale but that possibility was quickly ruled out.
At one point they thought the animal had swallowed a large plastic roll which had entered its body at sea, but that actually turned out to be one its vertebrae. The creature was also missing most of its head.
Marine Environmental Monitoring, a partner organisation within the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme, sent some images of the unusual sea creature to the Natural History Museum, which later confirmed that it was a basking shark – the second largest shark.
The decomposing sea creature of Porthcawl
Back in April, a Swansea woman found the decomposing remains of a four-and-a-half foot long creature that had washed up on a beach in Porthcawl. Whatever it was that was found on the pebbles appeared to have four flipper-like feet and was bigger than the average dog.
One wildlife expert explained that, while it could have been a dead seal, its advanced state of decomposition meant that identification was difficult, which left the true story behind the creature’s past something of a mystery.
The ‘crocodile fish’ found on a Welsh footpath
As a schoolboy walked to school in Risca, he Facetimed his mother before he arrived to say that he had spotted something along his usual route. It looked like a crocodile, but it also looked like a fish.
Soon, other passers-by began to notice the creature and sent pictures to the RSPCA, which said it appeared to be an alligator gar fish that had died and been dumped on the canal river bank.
An alligator gar is a fish typically found in South America. They can grow to around 6ft long and a weight more than 100lb, and are not allowed to be kept as pets in Wales. The one spotted on the footpath in Risca was around two-and-a-half-foot long and had a long nose and sharp teeth.
A spokesman for the RSPCA said: “This is likely to have been a very distressing discovery for a member of the public to make. There have been restrictions on the keeping of alligator gar fish in Wales for a number of years, and these would be very difficult animals to keep successfully as they can grow to be very large and their needs are the same as they would be in the wild.”
The roaming wild boars of Maesteg
When a farmer’s land was raided by burglars, he noticed that around £10,000 worth of mechanical and electrical gear had been taken. More worrying than that, however, was what else was missing: more than 40 wild boars.
The breeder, who owned 110 wild boars on his land in total, said several of them had been found dead, with many having their throats cut and their heads battered.
However, 42 had escaped after a gate had been opened during the break-in in 2014, leading the farmer to say: “They will attack if they smell blood. Farmers need to keep their eyes open for the boars. I’m advising them to shoot them straight away.”
Police started a hunt for the boars and warned the public not to approach them, adding that they could attack people as they foraged for food.
Wild boars were once native to the forests of Britain but became extinct during medieval times. Attempts were made in the 18th and 19th centuries to reintroduce them onto private estates for hunting purposes, but it was only in the 1980s, when wild boar farming became more popular, that large numbers began being imported into the country.
The rooftop peacock of Bridgend
We’re all used to having a few birds tapping on the roofs of our homes from time to time, but a large and brightly coloured peacock?
That’s what happened in the Brackla area of Bridgend in May last year. The peacock appeared on various houses’ roofs and proudly wandered around gardens in what locals jokingly referred to as a “tour of Bridgend”.
The owner of the peacock, which was called Frankie, was eventually tracked down and he said that the bird, together with another two peacocks he owned, flew away during high winds a couple of months before Frankie turned up at random people’s homes.
The jumping wallaby of Neath
CCTV can capture all sorts of strange things, particularly in the middle of the night, and that was certainly the case in Neath last year.
A local couple were awoken shortly after midnight last May by the sound of a slamming police van door. Intrigued, they checked their own CCTV the following morning, and what they found left them totally amazed.
It was either a kangaroo or a wallaby hopping along in their drive. The police and the owner were able to safely capture the animal, which turned out to be a wallaby, after it had escaped from a paddock at its nearby home.
The owner said: “They (police) came and knocked my door that night and asked if I had a wallaby missing. I went down with them in their van to catch him because you have to know how to catch a wallaby. They’re very fast and can side-step like Shane Williams.”