Are there wild cats in the UK?

There have been numerous reports of mysterious big cats stalking the UK, but is there any truth to these sightings?

The UK only has one native species of cat: the Scottish wildcat.

It is about the same size as a domestic cat and lives in tiny, dwindling numbers, exclusively in the Scottish Highlands.

But every year thousands of people across the British Isles report seeing much larger felines on the prowl.

For several decades there have been sightings of phantom cats: cat-like creatures that are reportedly far larger than any domestic or wild cat.

Most say the creatures are black and about the size of a domestic dog, sometimes larger.

The sightings are something of an enigma. Only a small percentage are ever reported to the government.

This means that the true figure for how many people see a phantom cat is hard to get at.

The most reliable source of information is the British Big Cats Society, an organisation of amateur enthusiasts.

It regularly receives reports from people claiming to have glimpsed a suspiciously large cat. Going by their figures, a few thousand such sightings are made each year.

Many people dismiss phantom cat sightings as misidentifications of dogs or as over-imagined domestic cats.

But others maintain that exotic felines really could be stalking our shores.

Various explanations have therefore been suggested. The animals could be leopards in their black, non-spotted form (colloquially called "panthers").

They could also be cougars, sometimes known as pumas or mountain lions, as some sightings describe a light or "sandy" coloured creature. But is there any truth to any of this?

Phantom cat sightings in the British Isles date back to at least 1825. In that year William Cobbett, a famous farmer and journalist, reported seeing a large grey cat, which he compared in size to a medium-sized spaniel, in the grounds of an abbey in southern England.

Read the full story here