'Panther' spotted on the streets of Lancashire

A man claims to have spotted a big cat roaming the streets of Lancashire.

Joe Rutlidge, 23, from Bamber Bridge, saw the unusual-looking creature – unusual for the UK, at least – while on a call-out for work.

He said: "It was in between Bamber Bridge and Walton-le-Dale – at the top of Cinnamon Hill.

"I was setting off at about 3am and, as I drove up to the top of the hill, 20 yards in front of me was a really big, black cat which I can only describe as a panther.

"There's no domestic cats that big."

The sighting, earlier this month, came before national news reports on Tuesday that military policeman Chris Swallow managed to captured dramatic footage of a big cat prowling close to a naval submarine base on the Clyde.

Cheryl Hudson, Lancashire representative and researcher for Big Cats In Britain, said: "Many reports received from the public are of sightings near or on railway lines, canal towpaths, on land beside motorways and on golf courses."

Recent reports of sightings in Lancashire include two from people claiming to have seen two black cats, thought to be leopards, at the corner of Gib Lane, Hoghton, in 2008.

And in May last year, there were reports of a yellow cat, similar to a cougar and the size of a sheep, spotted around Mere Brow and Holmeswood.

In July, there were reports of a 3ft puma-type animal at woodland in Freckleton.

Also in July, train driver Wayne Pattinson spotted an unusual cat-like animal when he was driving from Barrow-in-Furness to Preston.

The creature, spotted around three miles outside Preston and heading towards Lancaster, was "three or four times bigger than a normal cat and looked just like a puma".

Cheryl said: "The evidence we have so far in the UK indicates that interaction with humans is very scarce.

"However, in their native lands, occasional attacks have occurred but are very rare. These cats are shy creatures which I think should be left alone. They control vermin and keep the deer numbers down."

Big cats include tigers, lions, leopards, jaguars, cheetahs, snow leopards and cougars. The Dangerous Wild Animals Act was introduced in 1976, and made it illegal to keep certain types of animals, meaning that hundreds of people then simply released their animals into the wild rather than face prosecution.

Most of the big cats released were still relatively young and not full-grown, but many wildlife experts believe that in the three decades since enough have survived to sexual maturity for some to have bred in the wild.

Cheryl's advice should you come face-to-face with a big cat is do not run, keep eye contact, back away slowly, do not threaten it or try to approach and , in the unlikely event it attacks, make yourself look as large as possible and shout.

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