Police and the RSPCA have warned a ‘panther-like’ big cat is stalking a village where several pets have disappeared.
Five cats went missing and a dog was attacked by a ‘panther or puma’ in a single week, raising concerns about safety in the village of Harrowbarrow near Callington, Cornwall.
After forensic experts took a plaster cast of a paw print, officials confirmed the tracks – which measure almost five inches – are that of a big cat, with police saying ‘something has been here which should not be’.
One local farmer claims to have discovered its ‘den’ on his land.
James Stephenson raised the alarm after his dog was attacked and left bleeding from its injuries, sustaining claw marks on its shoulder.
Mr Stephenson, 23, said there had been talk of the beast in his village of Harrowbarrow for a few weeks.
The farmer spotted it before the animal attacked his dogs two days before the terrifying moment he came face to face with it himself.
Mr Stephenson, who lives with his mother Tricia in the village, told how he was in his garden with Marley and his collie puppy Maisy, when the beast struck on Thursday.
He said: ‘Over the last couple of weeks we have seen this large black cat walking down the back wall of the field at the back of our garden.
‘It’s on a stone wall, often carrying something the size of a lamb. Whatever it’s been carrying is about a foot off the ground so it’s very big.
‘We’ve not paid it much attention because they normally shy away from humans. We’re not sure whether it’s a puma or a panther but it’s been confirmed that it’s a big cat.
‘We’re under the impression that it’s a puma. We went round to warn the neighbours to keep any dogs in and safe. They think it’s a panther.
‘They normally only come out at night to not blow their cover but this one is out any time of day because it has adapted to its surroundings.
‘Marley is a rescue dog so he now has almost an acre of garden when, before, he lived in a confined space. He loves his garden.
‘He walks around to make sure it’s safe and secure every night. It’s his routine to make sure him and his family are safe.
‘He was walking the far end of the garden and I was about 20 feet from him and he was suddenly taken down to the floor as if his legs had given way from underneath him; like he was pulled down.
‘He’s a very agile dog; very careful. I thought he tripped on something and hurt himself. I called him back and he was already beside me with his tail between his legs in fear.
‘He was covered in blood. He had a big deep gash on his front left leg and one between his toes.
‘On his left shoulder was a big black claw mark, as if a muddy claw had scraped down the side of him.
‘He’s still not interested in going out in the garden at night. He loves his garden and now can’t bear it.
‘The RSPCA said it had probably already caught something and was eating it in our garden and that’s why it didn’t take Marley; it was just protecting its food when it took him down.’
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But Mr Stephenson experienced a frightening encounter when he spotted the animal in person a few days later.
‘On Saturday night I went out to the garden with the dogs. I have a big torch and we have had to resort to putting big floodlights up to scare it off.
‘I saw two large green eyes reflecting in the torch light at the bottom of the garden. You’re told to make yourself appear big and aggressive and scare it off.
‘I shouted to it and was waving my arms around and it actually started to run towards me. That’s very unusual for a big cat so it’s obviously adapting to its environment.
‘I was luckily close enough to the door to get back inside when it was coming at me and then didn’t see it again. The dogs were still being strange.
‘It’s not afraid of humans like they normally are. There was a fair distance between us and it should have turned and ran away but it didn’t. It was very scary.’
A police spokesperson said: “Police have received a single report of a big cat sighting in the Callington area.
‘We were called on the morning of Friday 29 March by a resident of a property in near Harrowbarrow who claimed that panther had been in their garden and attacked their dog the night prior, and later seen with another animal in its mouth.
‘An officer attended the property and located the footprints in the garden. We called the RSPCA for advice and took a cast of the print which they confirmed was the pad of a large cat.
‘Over the years, there have been a number of similar reports across Devon and Cornwall.
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”There is no evidence that such animals represent a danger to humans. It is highly likely that they would avoid human contact and only represent a danger if trapped.
‘If any animal is sighted it should not be approached.’
An RSPCA spokesman said: ‘The RSPCA has been contacted about a suspected big cat sighting in Harrowbarrow, Cornwall, last week.
‘Our officer attended after reports that a Labrador had been scratched by a large, black cat.
‘Thankfully, the dog is fine although he has scratch marks, and the owner is taking precautions to keep an eye on the dog in case of further sightings.’