Escaped pets, abandoned fashion statements or phantasmagorical phenomena - strange cats have been seen in Britain for centuries

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The Independent Online
Big cats have been "sighted" in Great Britain for the past 30 years, writes Mark Rowe. Reports have come from 30 English counties. Northern Ireland, Highland areas of Scotland, Wales, Grampian, Kent, North Yorkshire, Oxfordshire, Surrey and Sussex have proved particularly fertile territory for reports of panthers, pumas and black leopards.

There have also been sightings in urban areas including Dundee, Falmouth, Gloucester and Southampton.

Big cat watchers claim that up to 50 may be roaming the countryside and the issue has polarised opinions among zoologists. Some of the more famous sightings of the furtive felines include:

The "Surrey Puma", which has been spotted at least 700 times during the past 30 years.

The infamous "Beast of Bodmin Moor". There have been more than 100 sightings on the Cornish granite hills of a creature variously described as a panther, puma or lynx since 1983. Consistent reports by farmers that they lost ewes and calves eventually prompted a government inquiry. In 1995 the Ministry of Agriculture said that its three-month inquiry had found "no verifiable evidence" of such a creature but reported that "the investigation could not prove that a big cat is not present".

In September 1996, a former Glasgow Zoo consultant was among those who reported a black beast around Blairgowie, near Balmoral. No creature was ever found.

In March 1995, a big cat enthusiast disclosed a cine-film which purportedly showed The "Black Beast" of the Forest of Dean at Mitcheldean.

Film of a "six-foot long" cat near Bridgwater in Somerset was publicised in August the same year.

A large paw print found by a farmer near Liskeard, Cornwall, in 1995 was later identified as coming from a large dog.

In July 1995, a motorist reported seeing a cat with "a tail as thick as a man's arm and with green eyes and a matted coat" near Ridsdale in Northumbria.

In 1994 a leopard was killed by a car at Hayling Island, Hampshire and a Devon farmer shot dead a South American leopard.

A puma was caught near Inverness in 1993. Another was captured in 1980 near Aviemore.

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