Big cat hunters are on full alert after a man snapped a suspicious looking beast on a Lancashire railway line.
Dave Stanhope was out walking his dog on Saturday when he spotted a large black animal on the tracks below.
He says the creature was hunting and failed to notice him as he watched from a railway bridge above.
It is the latest in a series of sightings of big cats in the Lancashire countryside over the past few years – with around 30 reported to police.
Dave said: “When I first saw it, I thought it was a black Labrador that’s what attracted my attention because I have got one of those and because it was on the railway track.
“But when I looked closer I could see it was a cat. It was perfectly still, staring into the embankment, obviously hunting for something.
“When you look at the photographs you can see how big it is compared to the railway sleepers next to it.”
He said there had been a lot of talk locally about a big cat in the area. “It’s pub lore round here. People say they have seen either a panther or a puma.
“The last sighting was up near Tawd Vale Scout Camp on the way to Parbold.
“It was not moving, so I made a noise and it looked round up at the bridge. It did not seem startled, just wary. Eventually it moved off along the line which heads towards Preston.”
Cheryl Hudson, from Preston of the Big Cats in Britain organisation, said there have been many sightings in Lancashire and she has put in a freedom of information request to find out how many were reported to police.
She said the cats tend to be territorial and frequent railway embankments and canal systems, which would explain the many sightings near Burscough.
She said: “We have had many reports in the Preston area too. A train driver near Broughton saw one along the railway line. He’d just past the three-mile marker which puts it around Lightfoot Lane. We have had a few reports near there, Ingol and near Woodplumpton. It is possibly the same animal.
“A man at Newsham Hall Lane was having a cup of tea when one came up to his patio window. That one has been seen a few times in the area.
“We have had remains of sheep found in trees. There was one near Bilsborrow found in a tree there.
“There have been reports near Hoghton and Bamber Bridge and there was a big cat seen in a tree in 2006 in fields near the motorway bridge Ribbleton.”
She said the organisation has zoologists and scientists it can call upon to investigate incidents thoroughly and have used DNA tests to show what sort of cat has been in the area. Most sightings turn out to be feral cats. She added that some creatures have been set free by owners after the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act made it illegal to keep big cats as pets.
Ben Summerfield from Chorley is also a member of the group.
He said: “The theory within the group is that there are leopards or pumas out there but most of the sightings turn out to be feral cats.
“Ferals can grow quite large after a couple of generations in the wild because they have to hunt. It is probably that.
“With prints, many turn out to be dog prints. The easiest way to tell is if there are claw marks. Big cats retract their claws when they are walking.”