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Monday, 28 January, 2002, 17:50 GMT
More big cats recorded
Map, BBC
Recorded claims of dangerous big cats being spotted in England are on the rise.

According to the British Big Cats Society, certain areas of the country have seen a phenomenal rise in sightings.

The main three spotted are the black panther, the puma and the lynx, with the society setting up a website to report incidents involving the animals.

Danny Nineham, who has monitored sightings since the early 1990s, told BBC News Online: "I think it boils down to the amount of people we have in these locations who are now logging the sightings since the site was created."

Solitary animal

More than 430 big cats were reported in 2001. There were 63 reports from Leicestershire, 53 from Gloucestershire and 45 in Norfolk.

In Wiltshire, six people reported spotting a puma "sunbathing" at the same time. Mr Nineham said: "Private circuses travelling the country have allowed animals to escape.

There is a potential danger and I know of 10 reports of children being attacked across the UK

Danny Nineham
"In the 1960s and 1970s, people had big cats like leopards as pets and they used to walk them like dogs.

"But in 1976 when the Dangerous Wild Animals Act came into force, people released their cats because they did not want to pay for a licence, put them down, or take them to a zoo.

"A big cat is a solitary animal and will not attack as a rule... it is quite happy to live by stealth and keep out of your way. But there is a potential danger and I know of 10 reports of children being attacked across the UK since the 1980s."

Mr Nineham, who acts as a consultant for police forces when they investigate sightings, maintains that the risk presented by wild cats is not taken seriously by the government.

"Really the official line is that they do not exist," he added.

The British Big Cats Society website also shows Scotland to be a major source of sightings, which Mr Nineham attributed to the size and rural nature of the country.

See also:

05 Feb 00 | UK
'Big cat' on the prowl
19 Aug 99 | UK
Puma hunters target Wales
27 Sep 98 | UK
Home Counties puma alert
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