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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 September, 2003, 13:45 GMT 14:45 UK
Big cat search abandoned
The big cat is thought to be a puma
The big cat is thought to be a puma

The police have called off an operation to catch a big cat on the loose in north Antrim after being disturbed by people trying to take photographs of the animal.

People are being asked to stay away from the area near Ballymoney, where the animal, thought to be a puma, has been seen.

It is understood police had mounted a secret stakeout in the Benvarden Road area over a number of days where they believed the animal would appear.

They were delighted when night vision equipment subsequently located the cat.

However, just before the animal moved into a clearing designated as the focal point for the operation, a car with three people on board - who had been trying to take pictures of the cat - drove into the field.

When they got out the animal was frightened.

Police have asked the public and the media to stay away, in case they put themselves at risk by cornering the wild animal, or interfering with ongoing police operations to capture it.

Last week, animal charity the USPCA said it was convinced the big cat is a puma.

Twenty sightings

The cat was spotted last Thursday night chasing a large flock of sheep into the corner of a field.

The farmer called the police but the cat ran into adjoining woodland at Benvarden Road near Ballymoney.

The sighting was very close to the discovery earlier that day of a sheep believed to have been mauled by an animal.

On that occasion, two policemen reported seeing the cat in a field and soon afterwards they found the body of a dead sheep.

There have been more than 20 sightings of a wild cat on Northern Ireland's north coast.

USPCA chief executive Stephen Philpott said the sheep's injuries were consistent with those found on another sheep and a ram killed recently in the area. Their wounds suggested they had been attacked by a large animal.

Mr Philpott said that this animal was an "amateur" who was used to receiving his food on a plate.

He added that there were no records of animals such as these ever attacking their owners when they were being kept as domestic pets.

The Ulster Farmers Union said the farming community was increasingly worried about the big cat. Last week, police wildlife liaison officer Chief Inspector Mark Mason said the animal was unlikely to pose any risk to people.

Fears of further big cat attacks
21 Aug 03  |  Northern Ireland
Release of wild cats 'deliberate'
19 Aug 03  |  Northern Ireland
Search for puma continues
09 Aug 03  |  Northern Ireland
'Wild cat' remains at large
11 Aug 03  |  Northern Ireland

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