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Wednesday, 22 August, 2001, 14:08 GMT 15:08 UK
'Lioness' spotted by motorists
Motorists thought they saw a lion in a field
Motorists at a Somerset petrol station raised the alarm when they spotted a "big cat" in an adjoining field.

Witnesses said the animal crouching in the grass near the A38 in Churchill looked like a lioness.

Susan Todd was sitting in a car on the forecourt of the Rowberrow Service Station when she saw the creature.

"It was a cream colour with a long body and a long tail," she told BBC News Online.

"I jumped out of the car and ran into the kiosk where my husband Ken was buying cigarettes. I told him and the staff what I had seen.

It was stalking in the middle of the field. Two men jumped over the wall and it stood up and ran very fast to the corner by some big trees

Susan Todd

"They came out and saw it as well. Because we were pointing, motorists and lorry drivers also stopped to look.

"I rang the police as I was very concerned to protect children in the area. I saw some going round there on pushbikes."

Mrs Todd, who lives in Whitchurch, Bristol, said about 15 people had seen the animal and they were all convinced it was a big cat.

"It was stalking in the middle of the field about 500 yards away.

"Two men jumped over the wall and as they started to walk towards it, it stood up and ran very fast to the corner by some big trees.

"It had really 'muscly' back legs."

Mrs Todd, whose 22-year-old daughter Sally and granddaughter Shannon, six, were in the car at the time, said she felt shaken by the experience.

Avon and Somerset police said they had received several calls about the beast and their Yatton officer was keeping a watch in the area.

The RSPCA were also investigating the reports.

Jacky Cullinford, a Somerset-based researcher from the British Big Cats Society, said from the description she thought that the animal was likely to have been a sandy-coloured puma.

A puma
There have been sightings of pumas in Devon and Somerset

"To a member of the public this would look like a lioness.

"We believe most reports of lionesses are usually sightings of pumas."

They were thought to be the offspring of big cats let into the wild illegally in Devon nearly 15 years ago.

Pumas generally survived on deer and rabbit and the males often travelled many miles in a day, said Ms Cullinford.

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