Strange Animals, Kent's Weird Creatures

By Neil Arnold

"In the holy night of John the Baptist, all night thunder roared and lightning, terrific, incessantly flashed all over England. A certain strange monster was struck by lightning at Maidstone, in Kent, where, in the highest degree, the most horrible thunder reverberated. The monster had the head of an ass, the belly of a human being, and other monstrous members and limbs of animals very unlike each other. Its black corpse was scorched so intolerable a stench came from it that hardly anyone was able to go near it."

So, wrote Abbot Ralph of Coggeshall, in the June of 1205! This incredibly bizarre happening is one that stirs the imagination but also falls short in its vagueness. Yet, on a lighter note, thunderstorms are very much responsible for several sightings of unusual creatures in the counties enshrouding woodlands. During the 'great storm' of 1987, several wild boar escaped into the thickets and undergrowth of the Kent marshlands. Some were captured, many more eluded their pursuers, and have now established themselves as a breeding colony, from the dense wetlands of Romney Marsh, into Paddock Wood, and down to Deal. Many would fear such a tusked raider if they stumbled across it one morning, but such 'beasts', once native to Britain, yet unofficial now as a species, only attack to protect young, although farmers crops often take a battering!

Over the last few months there have been several sightings of another creature, certainly not native to Kent. The wallaby. Again, several escapees from private collections and parks have established themselves in parts of Ashford through to Wye, animals that would shock any motorist as they pounce from a roadside hedge and spring across the road. Kent is certainly home to some amazing animals, none as monstrous or disfigured as that described in the first paragraph, but the variety is astonishing, from the scorpions that linger on the coastal walls, to the report of a 'wild cat' near the south of Ashford, a cat only native to Scotland and parts of Europe, it's a felid larger than a domestic cat with a reputation of being fierce, although like any other 'wild cat' will do its best to avoid humans. 

Indeed, there are wallabies in the woods. Leopards in the lanes. Boar in the bushes and deadly insects lining the coastal walls of Kent. Yet, such creatures, according to 'strange phenomena' investigators, are simply labelled OOPAs, Out Of Place Animals, a far cry from seething, smouldering demons and other manifestations that can be categorised more intricately as 'zooform phenomena', a term coined by zoologist Jon Downes to classify 'animals' that appear to have natural characteristics yet clearly display 'supernatural' qualities, i.e. creatures such as Black, spectral dogs, and worldwide entities such as the Goatsucker and Mothman that fiendishly prey on witnesses minds and the flesh of livestock yet disappear without trace.

Cayman crocodiles have turned up on doorsteps and alligators on the banks of the River Stour. Foreign parakeets have fluttered around Maidstone , and deadly spiders have spilled from fruit crates into supermarkets. Out of place animals are everywhere. Many can exist in numbers, others, such as wolves and hyenas generally don't. Or maybe they do! During 1999 a motorist travelling near Chattendean Wood spotted an extraordinary animal that he identified later as a Maned Wolf. Such a creature, native to Central and Eastern America, may at first be mistaken for a fox, yet the one characteristic that stands out, and one which the driver pointed out, is its stilted legs. The creature was nosing the curb of a very remote road on this particular night, and it stared at the motorist as he slowed his vehicle. He noted the dark mane across its shoulders, the thick, reddish coat, the black muzzle and large ears. The motorist claimed that if a gun was available at the time, they would have shot the beast!

Who knows what lurks in the back gardens of built up areas during nocturnal hours, let alone the far reaches of Kent's dark woodlands. Over many centuries all manner of strange creatures have turned up, many one-off cases of released pets and zoo escapees, but others are very much abundant, and you wouldn't even know they were there. Until you are lucky enough to see one.

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