More than 100 jungle cats may be on the loose in this country.
A study has found leopards, pumas and lynx roam North-East England, the Midlands and the North of Scotland.
The big cats in Britain report for the country magazine, The Field, used police records or reliable sightings as part of its research.
It found leopards had been seen in 29 areas, pumas spotted in another 32 and lynx reported in 11 regions.
In the County Durham countryside, police have recorded 280 sightings since 1986 - 60 of which are reliable. Sgt Eddie Bell said he received a report of a puma in the area last month. 'A man had been out shooting rabbits and it crossed the path ahead of him,' Sgt Bell said.
'Sightings have been very constant over the last ten years. I think we've got 8-10 pumas and 1-2 lynx.'
Experts have claimed many of the big cats were pets, freed following the Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976. It requried owners to license their animals at great cost, turn them over to a zoo or put them down. Sgt. Bell said many of the owners decided to free their pets.
'Most gamekeepers in this area will admit privately to knowing the cats are out there,' he added.
Big cat expert and ormer zoo keeper Quentin Rose said yesterday British conditionswere ideal for the cats, particularly leopards.
'There's plenty of cover and food, the weathers' fine and there are no predators. It couldn't be better,' he said.
London Metro, 20 th February 2000
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