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Last Updated: Monday, 18 September 2006, 00:11 GMT 01:11 UK
More 'big cats and boars in wild'
Red panda
Two sightings of red pandas have been made since 2000
Exotic animals roaming free are becoming an increasingly common sight in the UK and its waters, a study says.

The survey recorded 5,931 apparent sightings of big cats, 332 of wild boars and 3,389 of sharks since 2000 - with figures expected to rise.

The 10,000 sightings include a penguin, two red pandas and 51 wallabies.

Climate change, zoo thefts and escapes are thought to have contributed to the rise, said the study compiled by Disney along with animal groups.

Locations of reported animal sightings

The British Big Cat Society, Beastwatch UK, The Wild Boar Society and the Marine Conservation Society all contributed to the survey.

Once on the loose, it seems the south west of England is popular among big cats, with Devon, Cornwall and Somerset among the top 10 counties for sightings.

In Kent and East Sussex, there were more than 100 wild boar sightings, and in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire wallabies were apparently spotted on 30 occasions.

Racoons seem to head for Leicestershire and Oban in Scotland is home to several monkeys, the survey says.

However, it is not just the sightings that have been startling observers, but their behaviour too.

5,931 big cats
3,389 sharks
332 wild boars
51 wallabies
43 snakes
13 dangerous spiders
13 racoons
10 crocodiles
7 wolves
4 eagles
2 red pandas
2 scorpions
1 penguin

Last year, a deer was seen swimming a mile and a half across a busy shipping lane in Hampshire, apparently looking for a new home.

And earlier this month, a family of squirrels cut the power in 10,380 homes in Exeter after shorting a power cable.

Chris Mullins, founder of Beastwatch UK, said: "It is clear that the UK contains far more exotic wild animals than the British public could ever imagine."

He said since the organisation started in 2000, the number of reports had increased at a rapid rate, ranging from monkeys being stolen from zoos to the more unusual such as a piranha in the River Thames and a chinchilla found in a post box.

The British Big Cat Society also reported an increase in big cat sightings in recent years, with 2004/5 figures 3.5% up on the previous year.

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