It’s official – mythical ‘big cats’ which are rumoured to roam the British countryside DO NOT exist, environment officials have ruled.
For centuries there have been thousands of reported ‘sightings’ of large felines on moorland and in woods and fields across the UK.
The large animals – normally black or brown – have been ‘spotted’ in almost every county of the British Isles from Cornwall to the tip of Scotland.
Members of the public have reported seeing large unidentified cat-like creatures stalking the countryside and leaving large paw prints.
Experts claimed the animals could be descended from species like cougars and pumas which were kept as pets before being released into the wild.
The alleged sightings have helped create stories of mythical creatures like the ‘Beast of Bodmin’ – said to prowl Cornwall feasting on sheep.
But a report by the Government’s environment watchdog Natural England has now found there are NO such creatures in the UK.
The agency says it collated records of ”alleged sightings” and investigated ”where necessary” but is ”confident that there are no breeding populations of big cats” in Britain.
Officials examined reported sightings over a ten year period and found it is ”very unlikely that there are any big cats at large in the English countryside”.
Its findings have now been made public in a report released under the Freedom of Information Act.
The report said: ”From time to time we receive occasional reports from members of the public of alleged big cats.
”However, none of the sightings of the big cats has ever been confirmed and the evidence of all the sightings we have been asked to look at have either been inconclusive or attributed to other causes.
”From time to time big cats do escape from zoos and other collections and are usually recaptured very quickly.
”We are confident there are no breeding populations of big cats in this country it is very unlikely that there are any big cats at large in the English countryside.”
The report contained alleged sightings from 2001 to 2007 and a further 32 from 2008 and 2009.
It also listed other exotic species apparently spotted by the public in the British countryside including a coypus – a South American rodent – and a wallaroo, a kind of kangaroo.
The report said: ”Non native species are one of the most serious threats to global biodiversity and it is important we find out about any new threat as early as possible.
”The claimed sightings since 2001 include a wide range of species – chipmunks, coypus, will boar and raccoons.”
But big cat expert Trevor Beer, who has been researching the creatures for thirty years, says Natural England has potentially ”written off” thousands of genuine sightings.
Trevor, of Barnstaple, Devon said: ”The big cats are out there. I don’t know why Natural England is going down this line. They are just making fools of themselves.
”There are no issues with the climate and the cats are living off the fat of the land.”
Hundreds of big cat sightings have been made in Britain and Ireland although photographic or physical evidence has always been inconclusive.
Theories on where they came from vary although many believe they are descended from big cats which were abandoned following the introduction of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976.
The new law clamped down on keeping exotic pets and many owners were thought to have released their animals into the wild where they bred with native cats – creating hybrid animals.