Big cats prowling Welwyn Hatfield, Freedom of Information request reveals

PUBLISHED: 09:00 26 November 2016

The Herts Police FoI response shows reports of panthers and other big cats in the county

The Herts Police FoI response shows reports of panthers and other big cats in the county

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Nearly 30 big cat sightings in and near the Welwyn Hatfield borough have been reported to the police over the past five years, a Freedom of Information request can reveal.

Herts Police confirmed that between 2011 and 2016 there were 26 reports of big cats prowling in the wild.

The majority (11) were of a panther, with one informant, in 2011, saying that after seeing a sheep being eaten by a panther, they “ran all the way home and our dog was going crazy, barking and yelping”.

Of the 26 reported sightings, nine were classified as unknown species, but shared similar characteristics with callers telling the police the big cats were “very large” or the same size as a Labrador, brown or gingery in colour – and in one incident, just 20ft from the informant.

A farmer in the north Hatfield area informed the police of multiple sightings on their property of a panther.

The person told police: “We live on a farm. There have been four sightings of a large black cat over the past two weeks, puma size with orange eyes.”

A woman in Handside, Welwyn Garden City, rang police saying she had just seen a “big cat, not a domestic cat, but the size of a leopard and it was chasing up a tree and had a large bushy tail”.

Several years ago the police were told of a large cat coming down from a tree in Welwyn that was a “gingery colour” and the size of a big dog. They were concerned that it had escaped from a wild cat rescue centre nearby.

The third most reported cat was a lynx, with one person reporting seeing such a beast in their garden this year.

This paper recently spoke with Terry Moore, founder of the Cat Survival Trust which looks after an array of wild cat species on a 12-acre site in Welwyn, who said “fortunately” none had escaped their enclosure.

He and volunteers at the sanctuary have seen a black leopard visiting the site’s perimeter, particularly during mating season.

The busiest year for sightings reported to the police was 2011, with nine in total, followed by three in both 2012 and 2013, two in 2014, including a “very large cat the size of a Labrador” in Baldock, four in 2015 and five this year, mainly of a panther.

Three years ago a puma was spotted in the woods in Park Street, and last year the police were warned about a “large cat, non-domestic” in Kimpton.

If you see a big cat in the wild, Herts Police recommends keeping a safe distance and phoning 101 to report it.

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