Report from Reuel Chisholm
AN elderly couple are terrified to go into their back garden at night after coming face to face with a big black leopard.
Andy McCallum, 68, and his wife Susan stood in disbelief when their security night light went on at the back of the house.
Sitting in the middle of the lawn staring at them from only a few yards away was a huge cat with pointed ears and broad shoulders.
Said Andy: "I couldn't believe what I saw through the window. I called over my wife, who was having a cup of tea, and we opened the back door to get a better view.
"And, right enough, the big cat was still sitting in the centre of the lawn. It just looked at us and I decided to quickly shut the door. I don't mind admitting I was frightened."
The next moment the cat sprang over a low wall and disappeared into the darkness.
Later the couple told the police who carried out a search of the area but nothing was found.
Added a still shocked Andy: "There is no doubt in my mind what I saw was a large black cat. It wasn't a dog, it was bigger than that.
"It had a large round face and I'll never forget those long pointed ears."
The big cat sighting happened in the early hours of the morning at the couple's home in Elm Drive, Johnstone.
Susan, chairwoman of Johnstone Castle Tenants and Residents Association, said she and her husband were in the kitchen when Andy spotted the animal.
She recalled: "Andy called me over to the window and I realised a big cat was watching us.
"It was frightening to see. We certainly weren't imagining anything. There is no way we are going into the back garden at night, that's out of bounds from now on.
"The big cat could come back at any time. It's looking for food and probably it's the same creature that has been spotted in past weeks all over Renfrewshire."
A similar animal, with a rabbit in its mouth, was first seen near Lochwinnoch Primary School.
Staff and parents were alerted by police and during school hours pupils were not allowed to wander outside the playground.
Since then other big cat sightings have been reported to the police. Linda Brown, 44, was so close to the animal she could see its large white teeth glinting in the dark.
She was walking her dog in Moss Road, Linwood, when the big cat was only 15ft away.
John Junner, 45, saw the leopard-like beast from the window of a third floor flat in Gibson Crescent, Johnstone, less than half-a-mile from the town centre. He watched it cross the Johnstone to Paisley railway line in the early hours of the morning.
And school cleaner Mary O'Connor, 42, was left shaking with fear and fled after seeing the giant cat near her home in Maple Drive, Johnstone.
A woman walking the cycle track in Johnstone's Collier Street also reporting seeing the big cat.
Animal experts believe all the sightings are genuine. One said: "This is likely to be the same animal which has also been seen in parts of Ayrshire. I reckon it's a leopard or panther and has been living in the wilds for years."
Following some of the sightings the police helicopter has been called in to scan wooded areas from the air. But nothing has been found.
Renfrewshire News, 11 th December 2003
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