Thursday, 26 May 2011

Big Cat Sightings: 30 big cat sightings reported to Durham Police over past 11 years

By Duncan Leatherdale

MORE than 30 big cat sightings have been reported to police in County Durham in the past 11 years but officers in many cases said they could find no evidence of the mysterious moggies.

The large felines, often likened to pumas, panthers or jaguars, have been spotted around the county, from Stanley and Chester-le-Street to Darlington and Teesdale.

A Freedom of Information request to Durham Constabulary has revealed 33 sightings have been reported to police since the beginning of 2000, although several were categorised as hoax calls.

In September 2002 police went to Maiden Law near Durham where they found a disembowelled horse, with the owner fearing it had been attacked by a large cat.

Upon investigation however officers concluded that he horse had injured itself on a broken wooden fence nearby.

Police were also called to several other animal mutilations, including the carcasses of three sheep near Barnard Castle on December 30 last year.

The caller said the sheep had been "eaten rather than butchered" and that all that remained were their fleeces.

On October 4 last year officers also found a sheep with its front legs and half of its neck missing but on neither occasion did they find evidence to say a large cat was responsible.

In April 2006 a sheep near Durham survived having its sides lacerated, large cat like footprints were found in the mud around it. The latest sighting was in a wood in Durham in January when a dog walker reported seeing a "possible puma" at about 7pm.

Sightings have also been reported from Peterlee, Sedgefield, Ebchester, and Crook with four sightings made around Bishop Auckland between April 2004 and September 2005 and seven around Durham City since 2001.

Often the animal is compared in size to a large dog, ranging from Alsations and Labradors up to a Great Dane.

Meanwhile in Yorkshire the carcasses of two sheep, stripped to the bone, were discovered in a field near Kirby Hill, Richmond, causing speculation that a wild big cat, dubbed the Durham Puma, was prowling around Weardale and the Yorkshire Dales.

A police spokesman said big cats sightings are rare.

He said: "Reports of sightings are followed up as appropriate, but over the years no firm evidence has ever been found to suggest a panther or similar big cat has been living wild in County Durham."