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The BBC's Wyre Davies
"The police.. are taking the incident very seriously indeed"
 real 56k

Chief Inspector Nigel Russell
"Its the first attack I'm aware of in this area"
 real 28k

BBC Wales's Nick Palit
" Josh encountered what's thought to be a juvenile black panther "
 real 56k

Friday, 25 August, 2000, 19:18 GMT 20:18 UK
Police 'big cat' warning

"Big cat" victim Josh Hopkins feared for his life
Gwent Police are warning the public to be on their guard after a black, "leopard-like" animal attacked an 11-year-old boy in Monmouthshire.

Josh Hopkins was with his brother searching for their pet cat near his home in Trellech when he said the animal attacked him in long grass.

"At the start I thought it was playing, but when it struck its paw at me and I saw the blood fly past, I thought I was going to die," said Josh.

The boy suffered five long claw marks to his left cheek which needed medical treatment.


This is the first incident that I am aware of where anyone has been injured or attacked by a cat

Chief Inspector Nigel Russell

A helicoptor with heat-seeking equipment on board was due to survey the area later on Friday.

Police have also called in a big cat expert, Danny Nineham, to investigate the incident. He believes the animal may be a young, "leopard-like" cat.

Offspring

The boy described the animal as "large black and slinky-looking" - much bigger than a domestic cat.

Gwent Police say there have been other sightings of a big cat in the Chepstow area and residents have said pet cats have gone missing.

But there have been no reports of any big cats having escaped from zoos.

Chief Inspector Nigel Russell of Gwent police said they were treating the incident very seriously.

"This is the first incident that I am aware of where anyone has been injured or attacked by a cat," he said.

Big cat experts believe there may be as many as 100 leopards and pumas roaming the British countryside.

They believe the animals are the offspring of beasts released by owners in the 1970s after the introduction of stringent new laws governing wild and dangerous animals.

But the RSPCA has urged people not to panic.


Clearly, these species prey on animals lower down the chain and they may also be at risk themselves

RSPCA spokeswoman
In January, a former lion-tamer admitted releasing a panther and a cougar into the English countryside in the 1970s.

Leslie Maiden, who once owned more than a dozen big cats, said he released the animals off the A57 Snake Pass in Derbyshire.

"I released a panther 26 years ago on to the moors on the Pennines at Snake Pass," said Mr Maiden, of Dudley in the West Midlands.

"It was miles from anywhere. It was a couple of days after releasing a cougar," he said.

Illegal

Fellow big cat-owner Lewis Foley, who kept the animals at a menagerie with Mr Maiden, disclosed that a friend of his in Coventry had also set a panther loose in the Nottinghamshire area in 1974.

An RSPCA spokeswoman said releasing wild animals into the countryside did not become illegal until the early 1980s.

She said: "The 1981 Countryside and Wildlife Act made it illegal to release into the wild in the United Kingdom any non-indigenous animal.

"It is definitely illegal now. Clearly, these species prey on animals lower down the chain and they may also be at risk themselves."

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