FEARS of a mystery big cat roaming the Dorset countryside have resurfaced after a giant bird was killed at a farm near Winfrith.

A rhea – a five-foot tall ostrich-like bird – was savaged in the night at Nutley Farm in an attack the owner has described as ‘worrying’.

Anne Roots claims the bird was too big to have been taken by a fox and is struggling to explain what could have taken down one of her three prize birds.

Earlier this year a lamb was savaged at a Bockhampton farm and a local vet described the injuries as consistent with an attack by a big cat.

Sightings of a large black cat were then reported at Stratton, Crossways and Upwey.

Mrs Roots has kept the rheas at the farm for around four years as an attraction for visitors.

She said one of the male birds was discovered dead in its field by a livery girl at the farm on Wednesday morning.

Mrs Roots said: “I did have a shock because they are big animals, almost the size of an ostrich and it’s been attacked by something in the night.

“A fox couldn’t kill one because they are far bigger than a fox.

“It’s quite worrying as to what it could have been – it’s a rather nasty and rather worrying mystery.

“I’m quite concerned because I also have two sheep and a lamb and this bird is far bigger than a lamb.

“At the very least, other farmers ought to be aware about what is going on.”

Mrs Roots said she had heard from other people about reported big cat sightings in the area and was seriously considering such an animal could be responsible for the rhea attack.

She said: “I can’t find any other reason for it.”

Farm carriage driver Dryden Pennington said he also believed there could be a link between the reported big cat sightings and the rhea’s death.

He said: “That’s what sprung to mind.

“They are large birds, three or four times the size of a fox – you wouldn’t expect a fox to take one down.

“It’s been badly savaged, what else could have done it?”

Duncan Reavell, from Poundbury-based Lynwood Vets, confirmed that a fox would not be able to take down a healthy male rhea.

He said: “Unless it was ill for some reason I don’t think any standard predator from around here would get it.”