'Big cat' encounter convinces council chiefs

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The Independent Online

Council chiefs today hailed a big cat sighting as the best ever proof the so-called mythical beasts really exist.

A former policeman based in west Wales spotted a "puma or panther-like animal" as recently as Wednesday.

Despite his name, Michael Disney is in no way regarded as a man given to telling fairy tales or taking flights of fancy.

Now working for Pembrokeshire County Council's Public Protection Division, his sighting is being treated as 100% authentic.

While he gathered no photographic or other evidence, his sighting appears to give greater credence to the so-called big cat myth.

Stories of feline beasts living in remote corners of the UK are so common there is barely a region of the country without one.

From the Beast of Bodmin in Cornwall to sightings in Kent and all over the north of England, such stories are common rural legends.

The latest sighting comes days after the government environment watchdog for England dismissed the existence of big cats.

Experts with Natural England said in a report that they were confident no breeding populations of big cats exist in Britain.

Pembrokeshire Council begs to differ and is so convinced by Mr Disney that it is urging the public to report any sightings.

It published extracts of the statement made by their man today, which has been passed to the police.

Mr Disney's encounter happened in broad daylight in countryside six miles north of Haverfordwest, near Treffgarne village.

He was driving his council car on a single track road at 15mph when a large black "puma or panther" crossed five metres in front of him.

"I immediately stopped my vehicle and stared at this animal. It had a large cat-like head, muscular build and was approximately three feet tall," he said.

"It was bigger and more muscular than a German shepherd dog. The coat was smooth and looked like it had brown spots on it.

"I had a clear, unobstructed view of the animal and the visibility was excellent.

"The animal was in my view for fully five to six seconds, the time it took to cover the width of the road and then disappear into the undergrowth at the side."

He added: "I am 100% certain that this was a puma or panther-like animal and was definitely not a dog, cat or any other domestic animal. It was not something I had seen before other than in a zoo."

He called in at a local farm soon after and was told that a large puma-like animal was nearby a few weeks earlier.

Chief Inspector Steve Matchett of Dyfed Powys Police said: "We are aware of a possible big cat sighting in the Treffgarne area of north Pembrokeshire, which occurred on Wednesday.

"We're working with all relevant agencies including Pembrokeshire County Council and the Welsh Assembly Government's Big Cat Sighting Unit has also been informed.

"While the public should not be alarmed by this latest possible sighting, we would urge anyone who does see what they think might be a big cat not to approach the animal and to stay a safe distance away from it."

The last publicised incident in the county was in November when a sheep carcass was reported to bear the hallmarks of a big cat kill.

Pembrokeshire Council's public protection chief Mark Elliott said: "We believe this is the closest anyone has been to a big cat in the wild and is further proof that there is at least one large animal roaming free in Pembrokeshire.

"If anyone has actual evidence of the presence of a big cat they should inform the council's contact centre on 01437 764551."