Sun, 12 Jul 2020
A BLACK panther could be on the loose in Hungerford.
For years there have been rumours of a big cat dubbed the ‘Beast of Berkshire’ prowling the wilds and predating sheep and deer.
In 2014, television presenter Clare Balding, who grew up in Kingsclere, reported spotting a black, panther-like creature crossing a country lane near Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire.
Now the chairman of Hungerford Tennis Club, Philip Brown, has spotted a similar creature in woodland near John O’Gaunt School.
Mr Brown, a violin maker and repairer with a business in Newbury, was on the last leg of a sponsored bicycle ride when it happened.
He said: “I cycled past the school and turned right and there it was, 100 yards ahead of me.
“It was a huge black cat, the size of a Labrador dog.
“But it wasn’t a dog at all.
“I just thought ‘no one will believe this’.
“I could hardly believe it myself.
“Then it just slunk across the road and disappeared into the woods.”
Mr Brown said the creature resembled a panther or possibly a puma.
It was jet black all over with a long body and long tail.
The siting happened on Friday, May 29.
There have been numerous reports of big cat-like creatures across the country.
Some believe that the animals are the descendents of large species such as panthers, leopards and lynx which were released into the wild in the 1970s after their owners were banned from keeping them as pets without a licence under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act.
Nationally-renowned big cat tracker Frank Tunbridge, from Gloucester, said: “I have had one or two reports of a black, panther-like cat in Hungerford.
“And there have been an unusually large number of sightings of big cats nationally since the coronavirus lockdown because wildlife habits have changed.
“Deer are coming closer to population centres and the cats predate on them so they will follow.
“Most big cats sighted are black – it seems to be a predominant gene.”
Dr Tara Pirie, an expert in feline behaviour and big cats at the University of Reading, said: “There’s no reason a panther couldn’t survive in the area – there’s plenty of potential prey like hares, rabbits and deer.
“It could possibly have originally escaped from a zoo or a private collection.
“I wouldn’t like to say it would definitely be a panther or puma – the Maine Coon, for example, is a very large domesticated breed.
“But I wouldn’t rule it out, either.”
Dr Pirie said the creature was unlikely to attack a human and added: “Generally speaking, a healthy animal with access to food will want to stay well away from people.
“There is no doubt there are some big cats out there, but I’m sceptical of a viable breeding population.
“Having said that, some big cats interbreed, but they tend not to.”