Big cat may be on the prowl

PUBLISHED: 09:30 16 July 2009 | UPDATED: 16:04 11 May 2010

Shaun Nealon and Sam Smith near where they saw the cat

Shaun Nealon and Sam Smith near where they saw the cat

A PANTHER or puma could be on the prowl in Crow Country. Shaun Nealon and Simon Smith claim to have seen the fearsome feline walking along the railway track, near Kingsland Road, Ashwell, last Thursday, while out searching for a fishing lake. Mr Nealon, o

A PANTHER or puma could be on the prowl in Crow Country.

Shaun Nealon and Simon Smith claim to have seen the fearsome feline walking along the railway track, near Kingsland Road, Ashwell, last Thursday, while out searching for a fishing lake.

Mr Nealon, of Ivel Way, Baldock, said: "It was massive, and totally black in colour. We were in the fields nearby, looking for a fishing lake we'd heard about, and saw it about 50 metres away on the track.

"At first we thought it could be a dog, because there are some kennels nearby, but as we got closer we saw it was a cat."

When the creature spotted the pair, it made off into nearby woods.

"We were trying to get our phones out to get a picture, but it saw us and ran off," said Mr Nealon. "You could tell by the way it moved that it was definitely a big cat.

"We went into the woods afterwards, and all the undergrowth was flattened like a large animal had been lying there, so I don't know if that is where it's been sleeping. That was when we thought we probably shouldn't be following it in case it attacked us."

Panthers and pumas are usually found in the Americas, but it is thought many were brought to the UK as exotic pets. Experts say that, after the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act was introduced, it is possible that some owners released the animals into the wild illegally.

Rebecca Willers, from Shepreth Wildlife Park, said: "I've never seen one myself, but we have had reports in the past.

"One of our keepers has a personal interest in big cats, and put some cameras out following a sighting but didn't get anything.

"Panthers and pumas have very long tails, so that's a good way to identify one if you think you've made a sighting."

A spokesman for the RSPCA said it would be possible for a big cat to live wild in the UK.

She said: "There are the habitats in rural areas, and they could feed on small wild animals.

"However, it would be a lot easier for something like a bobcat or a lynx to survive because they are smaller and better camouflaged.

"Any big cat is likely to stay away from humans as much as possible, so is unlikely to pose any danger."

Have you spotted the beast of Ashwell? Call 01763 244977, or email news@royston-crow.co.uk.

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