In case you missed it, there's been a couple of big cat sightings in the UK recently. Earlier this year, a group of walkers in Gloucestershire spotted what they said were followed by a 'growling panther' for about a mile.

A couple of days later, a lady out for a walk spotted what she says she is '99 per cent sure was a panther' adding: "I'm not mad and the only thing I had drunk that day was a coffee."

These sightings pop-up every now and again and everyone gets a bit excited and then it dies down again. But is there something out there? Is the UK's green and pleasant land teeming with pumas, panthers and the like?

Well, Frank Tunbridge, a big cat expert who has spent the past 30 years hunting the elusive felines around Gloucestershire reckons there is.

Frank Tunbridge is a big cat hunter. Credit: SWNS

Frank tells LADbible: "I know there's something out there. I think across the UK, there's probably around 700 to 1,000 big cats living out in the wild. There's an abundance of food out there. People say 'there's no way pumas or panthers could live in the UK', but there's no reason why they couldn't.

"The majority of people describe the cats, particularly in this area, the same way: as a big as a Labrador and jet-black, but it looks 'stretched'. I think the cats are probably a hybrid, after big cats have begun mating in the wild."

This 'panther' was spotted in August in Huddersfield. Credit: SWNS

Frank speaks in a matter of fact way about big cats in the UK - there's no ifs or maybes for him. As far as he's concerned big cats are here and he's pretty sure he knows where they came from.

"Back in the 60s and 70s anyone could go out and buy a big cat as a pet," he tells me.

"You could go to a pet shop and pick up a puma cub for £250. People went out and bought them because they were unusual and cute, but then, of course, they grow and feeding them is expensive.

"And then, in 1976, the government brought in the Dangerous Wild Animals Act, and suddenly people needed licences to keep animals like these. A lot of people, rather than go through the hassle of applying for a licence would have just let them go into the wild. People didn't want the cats destroyed, so releasing them into the countryside seemed like the best idea. We know this happened."

Do you reckon there's a few dozen of these strutting around the UK? Credit: PA

One such story has been used to 'solve' the mystery of the Beast of Dartmoor - a legendary big cat, which was spotted dozens of times. Last year it was revealed that circus owner Mary Chipperfield released three pumas into the wold after her Plymouth zoo was forced to close down in 1978.

Five pumas were supposed to arrive at their new home in a wildlife park, however, only two turned up. It was reported that Mary couldn't bear to see them go to a new home, so had released her 'favourite breeding pair and another male' into the wild. See, not so far-fetched all this big cat stuff, is it?


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Frank said: "When there's a new sighting, I end up getting about six calls a week for a few weeks. This is what happens, people see something and they're too scared or embarrassed to speak up, in case people laugh at them or accuse them of being mad, but then someone will go to the press, and it gives others the confidence to come forward.

"Usually, I get about two or three calls a month, from all over the country.

"In all my years of tracking these cats, I can think of three hoaxes. The rest have all been genuine. The majority of calls I get are from people who know the area, farmers, land owners, game keepers. These aren't people who would mistake a domestic cat for a panther."

If there are big cats stalking the UK, then why haven't any been caught? Why don't we have irrefutable proof?

"Cats are naturally stealthy and will stay out the way of people. They're not going to go up and approach anybody. In 30 years of tracking, I've seen five," Frank explains.

Frank isn't alone in his quest to track and eventually prove these big cats are legit. He's one of a network of dozens of trackers who share information, images and techniques.

This monster was spotted in Somerset in April, and not going to lie, I'm a believer now. Credit: SWNS

When Frank gets a call, he will collect as much information as he can, before going out and looking for himself. He'll be looking for things like droppings, fur, paw prints, and a strong smell of cat piss. No, honestly; that's one of the signs.

Frank also warns that discovering solid proof of these cats might not necessarily be a good thing. He tells me: "If people find out there are large carnivores prowling through the countryside there will be a mass panic. This is part of the reason I believe the police cover these sightings up. They don't want a huge investigation, it would be costly."

There's also a danger to the big cats themselves, Frank reckons: "People would want to go out and hunt them, for a trophy. That's why if I ever do find hard evidence, I'll never reveal where I saw the animal."

Featured Image Credit: SWNS

Claire Reid

Claire Reid is a journalist at LADbible. Claire graduated from Liverpool John Moores University with a BA in journalism. She’s previously worked at Trinity Mirror. Since joining LADbible, Claire has worked on pieces for the UOKM8? mental health campaign, the Yemen crisis, life in the Calais Jungle as well as a profile of a man who is turning himself into a cyborg.

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