Crofter Susan Mackay dead sheep
© Jim Johnston
Crofter Susan Mackay with the carcass of her dead
A large "cat" with a taste for mutton 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 at the weekend.

The ewe belonged to Susan Mackay, who is not the first crofter to fall victim to the unknown animal.

Jim Johnston, 66, who lives in the village of Bettyhill, has developed a particular interest in the story and photographed Mrs Mackay with the carcass of her sheep.

He told the Independent that over the past five years, about 40 sheep have been found dead, apparently killed in one go, all neatly stripped of their skin before being eaten, across an area of about 200 square miles between the parishes of Farr and Tongue.

"The same pattern is happening. 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.

"It's a very interesting phenomenon."

Mr Johnston remembers one instance when two animals killed in exactly the same way 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.

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.

No-one knows where the "cat" comes from, but some say when keeping lions and other exotic animals in London gardens was made illegal, one man came up to the Scottish Highlands to release the creatures.

"People have been telling stories about it, it's a like a joke really although it is very real if it happens to your sheep.

"There isn't much news around here but this is very exciting news," said Mr Johnston.