MAJESTIC panthers and cougars could be roaming our county, which has been described as a “big-cat hotspot” by members of the British Big Cat Society.
The predators have been spotted throughout Derbyshire in recent years, with 17 sightings reported to police since 2007.
Danny Bamping, documentary film maker and founder of the British Big Cat society said the animals were released into the wild in the late 1970s following the introduction of new laws preventing wild animals being kept as pets.
“Derbyshire has a lot of sightings every year, and bordering counties do as well,” said Danny. “There was a five year window where people could release the animals into the countryside without having to pay for expensive licences.
“If you think about raising a cat from a cub, people are emotionally attached to that animal and they don’t want to see it put down. That’s why we have lynx and black panthers running around.”
One owner, Leslie Maiden, has previously admitted releasing a panther and a cougar off the A57 Snake Pass during the 1970s – animals which could have mated to create offspring big cats still seen in the countryside today.
Sightings of big cats reported to Derbyshire Constabulary in the last five years include one caller, who said: “Yesterday at approximately 12.55am I was driving from Manchester on the A6 in Darley Dale just after Morrison Shand construction firm. A large black cat approximately the size of a labrador ran in front of my car. I would swear this was a panther.”
Another report said: “I want to report two sheep that have been killed over the past six weeks. I don’t think it is a dog that has done this. A dog couldn’t have brought them down. I have found one of the sheep and it has been half eaten and mauled. I think it is a panther.”
Another reported seeing a big cat in Brassington. He said: “We were on the main road and it crossed there and went into some fields and went round the field and then up near the stone works there. I think we may have been on Wirksworth Road about a mile away from Carsington.
“It was definitely a big cat, a lot bigger than most dogs. It looked like a panther, it was black.”
Another, said: “About an hour ago we were walking along Hilcote Lane when we saw the black panther in a field. It had a very long tail and walked fown to the main road. The panther then seemed to be coming in our direction so we crossed over and made our way home. We thought the panther was a very large dog when we first noticed it but then saw it was a panther. This was witnessed by three of us.”
However, a spokesperson for the Peak District National Park Authority, said: “We have no evidence and no reported sightings of big cats in the national park area.”
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