‘We used to get a black leopard visit’ says big cat expert as readers confirm Hitchin and Codicote sightings

A black leopard is believed to be on the loose in Herts...

A black leopard is believed to be on the loose in Herts... - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Reports of recent panther sightings in Hitchin have been reinforced by the founder of a big cat sanctuary, who said a puma has also been seen roaming the surrounding area.

Following an article in last week’s Comet about a wildlife photographer setting up ‘camera traps’ in Hitchin to try and snap the beast, many readers who have also seen a big black cat have been in touch.

It appears there are possibly two big cats roaming around Herts and nearby Beds, with some telling the Comet they had seen them at a golf course, in fields, woodland and carrying prey on hills.

Terry Moore – founder of the Cat Survival Trust, which looks after an array of wild cat species on a 12-acre site in Welwyn – said: “A black leopard used to come over this way, up until two years ago. There have also been sightings of a puma in this area.

“I have seen a puma a couple of times, on the north side of Hertford, and also south of Hatfield station.”

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His sanctuary, a charity, has been in operation for four decades and in that time has helped place more than 2,000 surplus captive cats and bred more than 250 cats in captivity.

Terry said that ‘fortunately’ none of the cats at his sanctuary, used for education and conservation purposes, have escaped their enclosures.

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But, he suspects the animal would have come from a private zoo.

When quizzed about recent sightings Terry was not surprised, saying: “We used to get a black leopard visiting the sanctuary, during mating season. They travel miles, so it is quite feasible it is the same one. I have only seen it once, but volunteers here have seen it on three occasions. When we’ve seen one near the sanctuary, we don’t get advance warning, so we don’t have cameras with us – it’s really annoying!

“It was seen in woodland, which is part of the property.”

Terry said that the animal spotted near the sanctuary ‘looked like a young female’.

He explained that the wild cat would be hunting for rabbits, deer, hare and even rats.

Apparently, over a decade ago two big cats – a mother and daughter – were seen in a neighbouring chalk pit, and it is possible the animal seen recently is ‘the daughter’.

Terry said they can live for 15 to 16 years, particularly with a plentiful supply of prey. He added: “They move over quite a wide range, and wipe out a rabbit population and move on. They tend to move at dusk or dawn and hunt then, as that is when deer wake up.”

A Herts police spokeswoman said that people seeing big cats in the wild should ‘keep a safe distance’ and phone 101 to report it.

And Terry’s advice if you do see one in the open, and it comes towards you? “Shout and wave your arms, as they don’t like being shouted at,” he said.

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