Have you spotted a panther on the prowl in Hitchin? Photographer sets up ‘camera traps’ after sightings

Could there be a Beast of Hertfordshire? Residents have reported seeing a panther (file photo) in Ha

Could there be a Beast of Hertfordshire? Residents have reported seeing a panther (file photo) in Harpenden and Hitchin - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Unconfirmed reports of a panther on the prowl in Hitchin have prompted a photographer to set up ‘camera traps’ to ascertain whether one is lurking in the area.

Award-winning wildlife photographer Luke Massey, of St Albans, said he was informed that while “various people in Hitchin said they saw a panther”, unfortunately none had taken a photo of the beast.

Luke said: “They saw it three weeks ago in Hitchin. But I’m very sceptical. A black panther is a melanistic version of a leopard – basically the opposite of an albino, and they are incredibly rare. I have loads of doubts.”

After being told that a panther had been seen with a fallow deer, he installed some motion-activated cameras where the deer regularly roam in Hitchin.

Luke has travelled the world photographing big cats, including leopards, usually as part of conservation projects.

Although he will not reveal the exact location of his cameras, Luke said: “They have been in place for two weeks, and there has been no panther photographed. But I did photograph a rare waterbird.”

In an unusual twist, however, there has since been another reported sighting, near Luton Airport - about 15 miles from Hitchin - on Sunday.

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Iain MacDonald, of Harpenden, said he had a “rather interesting experience whilst out jogging, to the north of Harpenden, when a big cat – I am pretty sure it was a panther – crossed the road directly in front of me.”

He explained: “I was jogging, out towards Luton Airport, in Chiltern Green. I was running along a quiet country road, with hardly any cars, where there was woodland on each side and this animal loped across the road, about 50 metres in front of me.

“It didn’t look at me or anything, but it was going from one wooded area to another, on the other side.”

Iain said he was “so surprised that I didn’t register it straight away, and it took a while to work out what I saw. It was a very large cat, about four to five feet long, and had a very long tail. It was walking low across the road – I sped up a little bit!”

Iain said that he often jogs in the area, “but I haven’t seen something like that before. I didn’t take a photo, as I was jogging”.

Upon returning home, he Googled the animal, and is “100 per cent certain” that what he saw was a panther.

Iain added: “It looked like a panther; it was black and I’m 100 per cent sure that it was a panther. Everyone I have told thinks I must have been drinking, but I’m absolutely convinced about what I saw. Some people have had big cats as pets, and it was substantially bigger than a [domestic] cat!”

Upon hearing about the Harpenden sighting, Luke said: “Geographically, a panther could walk from Hitchin to Harpenden. It is perfectly feasible, as they have large ranges.”

The photographer said it was also possible that it may have followed fallow deer towards Harpenden and Luton.

• Have you spotted the panther in Herts? Please email details to news@thecomet.net.