A resident in Shepton Mallet claimed he spotted a large creature while driving through the town this week. Lee Brown said he witnessed the beast seemingly stalking its prey at the side of Old Wells Road. The latest sighting follows a number of similar reports of a large ‘black cat’ seen by residents across Somerset in recent years.
A panther-like animal has been seen multiple times, mainly in central West Country villages and towns such as Paulton and Timsbury.
Mr Brown told Somerset Live: “I was driving to work on Monday morning down the Old Wells Road in Shepton Mallet when I looked across to my right into a field that usually has deer. It was then I witnessed this big black animal moving across the hedge row.
“I couldn’t stop as I had vehicles behind me and it is a narrow road, but I originally thought it was a labrador that had perhaps slipped its lead. I was looking around for an owner or somebody but I couldn’t see anyone .
“As I continued forward, I noticed the way it was moving, it raised itself slightly and I could see a long tail. It was the sheer size of it and its features, I knew it wasn’t a dog.
“I’ve got dogs, it acted differently, it had a different face – especially the snout. I eventually pulled over to take a picture but lost sight of the creature.
“It looked like it was stalking prey. I know other people who have seen similar in the past 18 months. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was some sort of creature out in the countryside. There is an abundance of food for them, deer, livestock – even pheasants.”
There have been at least four reported sightings of the big black cat over the past few years.
A woman who lives on the outskirts of Paulton claimed she saw a big cat “running through her garden” in February 2020.
Another woman, Sarah Kamette of St Johns Road in Timsbury, also reported a sighting of the beast around the same time.
Frank Tunbridge, a Somerset resident who had studied wildlife for decades, has received dozens of emails and calls reporting big cat sightings in recent years.
The 74-year-old, who is particularly interested in exotic wildlife, said there was a wealth of evidence of big cats living in the UK, although there has been no clear confirmation of their existence here.
Mr Tunbridge said: “To a large majority of the British public, the thought of big predatory cats similar in description to a black leopard or a puma stalking through our woods and fields is unbelievable.
“Yet to a witness who has observed one of these elusive and stealthy creatures at close quarters, the experience is unforgettable and it lives with them forever. So, are they out there, or are they not?
“The whole subject of ‘big cats’ living and thriving within the UK has been rolling on for decades now without a satisfactory conclusion. Even though the evidence for their existence is overwhelming. Facts such as confirmed DNA, deer killed and consumed in a certain way and big cat paw marks.”
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He said the animals were most likely the result of big cats escaping from private collections and breeding throughout the British Isles.
Mr Tunbridge added that Somerset had now become a “hot spot” for sightings of these elusive creatures.
“There can be no doubt that over the years these animals are out there as a result of releases and escapes from private collections.
“They have bred and spread covertly throughout the British Isles to become naturalised, and are now part of our diverse exotic wildlife.
“Many of these big cats are hybrids which are now breeding true to type. As many as 70 per cent of reports I receive point to this fact in their description of the cat.
“Along with a couple of other counties in the South West of England, Somerset has become a hot spot for reported sightings of these elusive felids.”
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Mr Tunbridge said the animals had become bolder since the Covid-19 lockdown, making sightings more frequent. However, he urged the public not to be afraid of the creatures.
“Since the start of lockdown, they have become bolder, and are often seen closer to towns and villages, in some cases scavenging for food similar to urban foxes.
“The massive deer population in the area is their main source of prey, with the diminutive muntjac, and larger roe deer ideal for them. As they say: ‘Where there is something to eat, there’s something to eat it’.
“Usually a spate of big cat reports seem to occur in one area for a short while, and then it moves on, often reappearing around a year later back in the same locality.
“Most of these cats seen are black, similar in some respects to a black leopard, but also some fawn colored big cats occur with puma-like characteristics.
“These big cats are harmless towards people. They should be accepted as an interesting addition to the British wildlife scene.”