A ‘BIG cat’ feared to be roaming Dorset has been spotted near Dorchester.
Kevin Paul Fillary claims to have seen a ‘large black panther’ on the prowl in a field near Monkey’s Jump roundabout.
The 42-year-old lorry driver had been travelling on the A35 from Weymouth to Bridport at around 3.30pm when he spotted the mysterious creature.
Sightings of big cats in Dorset have sparked intense debate in recent years.
Many are convinced that there are panthers roaming the countryside while others maintain that with no conclusive proof of their existence that it is highly unlikely they exist in the wild.
Mr Fillary, of Somerset, said: “I was driving along and I looked to my left and spotted a large black panther.
“When I’m in my lorry I’m high up so I could see over into the field and I could see the creature clearly.
“I travel down that road every working day and have done for the past four years but this is the first time I’ve seen a big cat.”
He added: “I just wish I’d had time to take a photo but I was driving and had to move on.”
The lorry driver, who works for C&D Transport, said it was not the first time he had spotted a big cat.
He added: “I’ve spotted one before in Ilminster, so this was my second sighting.
“I told my family and they believe me but I didn’t tell anyone at work in case they thought I was mad.
“I am convinced that they exist in Dorset after people who kept them as pets years ago let them out into the wild.”
There have been numerous reported sightings in recent years.
According to figures obtained by the Echo last September, a total of 53 people made emergency calls to report their wild cat encounters since 2006.
After talk of a lion on the prowl in Essex, the popular subject resurfaced with Dorset named as a ‘hot spot’ for sightings by big cat experts.
Big cat researcher and author Merrily Harpur said: “There have been a lot of big cat sightings reported in the county over the years.
“Dorset is a hot spot for big cat sightings.
“In the last 10 years I have been told of more than 600 sightings.
“One of the interesting things about big cats in Britain is that they are very variable in their colours.
“Most of the sightings report a black cat but quite a few say they resemble a panther-like creature or are brown like a puma or the colour of a Scottish wild cat.
“Anyone who glimpses these creatures for more than a few seconds is very lucky and I would urge people in that area to carry a camera.”
MYSTERY BEASTS – CATALOGUE OF EVENTS
OVER the years each sighting has added a new twist to the mystery of the Dorset Big Cat.
In March 2010 a lamb was savaged in Bockhampton in what was believed to be a Big Cat attack.
The ‘Beast of Bockhampton’ struck in a field close to Pine Lodge Farm and Tearooms run by Jean and Tony Waterman.
Vet Duncan Reavell looked at a picture of a deer thought to have been killed by the predator in the same year and said a Big Cat could have been responsible.
RSPCA shop worker Judy Paterson came across the carcass while walking her dog at Conygar Hill near Dorchester. In January 2004, Margery Hookings, former editor of the Bridport News, claimed to spot a big black cat while driving on the A3066 road between Melplash and Beaminster.
Teenager Ashley Blanning, from Bridport, who witnessed a similar animal running down the field in September.
In the same year, photographer Alan McNamee, of Bridport, had his first wild encounter. He has set up a team ready to respond to sightings.
Victoria Briggs, 31, of Weymouth, says she saw a ‘big black cat’ in 2000 at Sea View Holiday Park in Preston while eating lunch with her mum.
STORIES of big cats go back to the 1960s and 1970s when it was legal and fashionable to keep exotic animals as pets.
Before the Dangerous Wild Animals Act in 1976, the wealthy could take their lion, tiger or cheetah for a walk around the park without needing a licence.
But the law was changed to protect the public and animals.
While many owners gave their pets to zoos or put them down rumours started that some people released their animals into the wild where their offspring are thought to still roam to this day.
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