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Last Updated: Thursday March 16 2006 10:45 GMT

Increased sightings of big cats

A lynx resting in the animal hospital at London Zoo after being found in a garden in Cricklewood, North London, in 2001.
Lena the lynx was found in a London garden
There's growing evidence that big cats are prowling the British countryside, according to a new report.

The British Big Cats Society says that 2,123 big cats - like panthers, lynxes and pumas - were seen between April 2004 and July 2005.

Devon was the top place for spotting the wild animals, followed by Cornwall, Somerset, Scotland and Wales.

But the BBCS's report also undercovered hoax sightings - including photos taken of a full-size cuddly panther!

The report's results will be published in April in BBC Wildlife magazine.

Almost 60% of all the sightings reported were of black cats, and 32% were of brown or sandy coloured ones, which the BBCS believes to be pumas. Another six % were lynx type cats.

A puma.
The BBCS has also gathered evidence of at least 23 releases of big cats into the wild since the Dangerous Animals Act was passed in 1976 and owners of wild animals needed to register and be licensed.

Danny Bamping, spokesman for the BBCS, said their survey had found that nearly a third of sightings were not genuine, with people being mistaken or vague.

He added: "There are also those people who insist on reporting the likes of The Pink Panther, Garfield, Top Cat and Simba."

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