Big cat sightings on the up

IS SUFFOLK'S notorious black cat Claws back on the rampage - or could it be that he even has a new family?New figures have revealed nearly 200 sightings of big cats across the region in 2004/2005, with the majority of those in Suffolk.

IS SUFFOLK'S notorious black cat Claws back on the rampage - or could it be that he even has a new family?

New figures have revealed nearly 200 sightings of big cats across the region in 2004/2005, with the majority of those in Suffolk.

Data gathered by the British Big Cat Society (BBCS) has highlighted 60 sightings of big cats across the county, compared to 54 in Norfolk, 50 in Essex and 34 in Cambridgeshire between April 2004 and July 2005.

Across the country, there were 2,123 sightings and some people even claimed they had spotted cubs with the animals as they prowled the countryside.

The society claims there is increasing evidence of the cats' existence emerging, such as a skull found in Devon which was identified as a puma, three reported attacks on horses and 35 sheep kills.

Around 60per cent of all sightings reported in the UK were of black cats and 32pc were brown or sandy coloured ones which the society believes to be pumas. Another six pc were lynx type cats.

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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 including a panther, pumas, lynxes. The society claims that many former owners are now admitting to releasing the creatures into the wild.

However, the society said that many sightings have also been revealed as hoaxes or mistakes.

Danny Bamping, spokesman for the BBCS said: “This year we have been able to study evidence in greater detail and estimate that just under a third of all reported sightings are not big cats - either people have been mistaken or their reports are too vague.

“There are also those people who insist on reporting the likes of the Pink Panther, Garfield, Top Cat and Simba.”

And despite the many sightings and apparent evidence of big cat activity, the Government's department for the environment, food and rural affairs (Defra) is still uncertain of the existence of big cats in the UK.

In an interview to a BBC magazine a spokesman said: “Based on the evidence, Defra does not believe that there are big cats living wild in England. We do not have a remit for the animals in the wild in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.”

n. Do you think it is possible big cats are living among us? Have you ever spotted one? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or email eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

n. See today's Edblog on www.eveningstar.co.uk

WEBLINK www.britishbigcats.org

Sightings of Claws in Suffolk

1994 - a puma-like creature was reported in Brandon and a large cat was spotted in Debach.

1996 - Many sightings of what looked like a panther in the Foxhall area of Ipswich.

1998 - In May, two wildlife watchers on Holton St Mary saw a black cat running across the A12.

1999 - A Capel St Mary couple saw an animal running between Hadleigh and Raydon.

2000 - Horse rider Suzanne Wallace saw a panther walking by the side of the road while she was out riding in Thorndon.

Her horse Olly, who was used to seeing dogs, froze at the sight of the large, black animal.

2003 - In October June Fooks of Eye saw a cat bigger than her Labrador prowling in her garden.

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