THERE could be up to 500 ‘big cats’ roaming around the British countryside, an expert has claimed.
Dr Andrew Hemmings, of the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, said he thinks there could be around 250 black leopards and 250 pumas in the wild.
Although there have been many claims of big cat sightings in the British countryside, the evidence is usually just blurry photographs.
Dr Hemmings said that, because of the consistency of sightings, lack of signs on inbreeding and skill at deer hunting, around 80 per cent of the reports he received were credible.
By looking at bite marks on five animal carcasses in a new study, Dr Hemmings said that leopards or pumas must have made the incisions.
The bites could have only been made by a non-native cat, he claims.
In the study, which the university plan to publish in a peer-reviewed journal, they fed black leopards and pumas at Exmoor Zoo.
They then saw the tooth imprints matched their samples.
He told The Times: “If you look at the upper carnassial teeth there are three projections from the tooth and the distance between two of them is far wider in cats, probably double that found in a similar imprint from a dog.
“In the past six years we have analysed more than 100 skeletal remains and from that we have 16 good carnassial samples.
“Five of those we are relatively confident come from a medium to large-sized felid.
“The others are more suggestive of small carnivores but five certainly do fit the bill as far as puma or melanistic black leopard.”
Dr Hemmings said that five of his colleagues at the university had reported seeing a big cat, with one having seen a mountain lion, also known as a puma, vaulting a dry stone wall.
Big cats are believed to have been released into the wild during the Second World War when meat for their food was scarce.
Earlier this month, a “big cat” was spotted stalking through a park in Cambridge.
Dan Underwood, who was there at the time, said: “I was out and about enjoying the sun and spotted a very large cat walking across Coldham’s Common.
“It was around 4pm and I was sat on Coldham’s Common where the Parkrun would normally take place. I just saw it in the corner of my eye and just straight away took a video.
“It was the size of a medium dog, lean and very agile looking. It was a light sand colour with dark spots, and big pointed ears.
“Much bigger than a regular cat.
“It had no collar and didn’t seem to be in any panic. It just simply walked on by.”
The markings on the cat, which Dan filmed, were distinctive and look similar to those of a Savannah Cat.
In May, concerns were raised after a “large cat” went missing from a billionaire owner in Hampstead, North London.
Armed cops were called to the scene after the hybrid Savannah cat was spotted in a garden.
Officers were joined by an animal expert as they surrounded the feline but were unable to catch it.
The Metropolitan Police said the cat was not deemed to be a danger to the public and no attacks had been reported.