ARE they just urban myths or could there really be creatures as exotic as black panthers and pumas roaming our countryside?

Some say it’s nonsense but reported sightings of big cats in Hampshire have been high for many years.

Hundreds of reports vary from a black panther-like creatures on school grounds to a beast that looked like a snow leopard in Netley.

Here are a few from the archives – could they still be out there?

New Forest – August 18, 1999

Fears of big cats stalking the New Forest were sparked after a dog walker spotted a panther-like creature at Marchwood.

Sharon St John was in a field next to the Saints training ground in Staplewood Lane when she caught sight of a jet black cat prowling close to the edge of woodland.


Saints training ground, Staplewood Lane, Marchwood. New Academy building.

Saints training ground next to the field where the creature was spotted


"It was about four to five feet long and it was certainly no pussy cat," said Sharon, of Lloyds Avenue at the time.

"When I first saw it I thought it was a bin liner because it was so black, but then it started to move and as it turned sideways I could see all its muscles rippling as it walked."

The creature disappeared into dense woodland and Sharon lost sight of it. She estimated to have been about 60 yards from the animal when she spotted it.

"It didn't seem to notice me at all and was like something you see on a wildlife programme."

She told her husband of her encounter and a search was made of the woods with the help of friend Paul Wilton. They found a single large footprint in a ditch close to the last sighting of the animal - but the hunt otherwise proved to be fruitless.

"We could hear branches breaking off and in the distance something was moving in the undergrowth," said Paul, of Marshfield Close, Marchwood.

"The print was left by a large animal and I'd not seen anything like it before."

The incident was one of a number of reported sightings of big cats in Hampshire around that time. Some animal experts put it all down to overactive imaginations - but others believed there could have been several big cats at large across the county.

Mottisfont – December 27, 2000

Two pensioners told of their brief encounter with a panther-like animal in remote countryside near Mottisfont.

Patricia Lawrence and June Oram were driving along a minor road between Mottisfont and Bossington when they came face-to-face with the beast.



Mottisfont - where the big cat was supposedly seen.


A deer ran into the road in front of the car.

Expecting more deer to follow, Mrs Lawrence braked. Shortly afterwards the black panther-like creature emerged from a roadside copse.

It stopped short of coming into the road, crouched, turned and then sped off back into the woodland.

"I could not believe what I saw. It was about the size of an Airedale dog, black with a very long tail. It was definitely a big cat chasing the deer. It was going at great speed. It crouched down before it shot back into the woods like an express train. I think it must have been frightened by the car.

"The only way to get this animal is by getting an expert to track it down," said Mrs Lawrence, who contacted the local farm estate office about the encounter.

"I didn't call the police because a shooting syndicate was due to go out. I didn't want to see the pheasants disturbed," added 70-year-old Mrs Lawrence, who lived at nearby Pittleworth.

Her 69-year-old friend, who came from Broughton, said: "It was most definitely a very large black panther-like animal. It was almost in a crouching position at one stage. It had cat-shaped ears.

"I was looking to see where the deer had gone. I paused and when I looked again I saw this big black animal. I am convinced we stopped it from getting its dinner.

Asked what he thought of the sighting, Quentin Rose, one of Britain's leading big cat experts, said at the time: "They are good descriptions and a probable sighting. Had it been a dog chasing the deer it would have carried on across the road.

"I would like to investigate this sighting further. There are 30 areas in Britain with black leopards and 32 areas where pumas are at large. These animals are definitely out there.

"There is clear evidence that big cats are breeding here in Britain. There are definitely leopards and pumas in the New Forest.

"Practically every county in the country has them. They are a threat to Britain's native animals. Another concern is the threat to livestock. These animals don't normally eat sheep. There have only been confirmed attacks on sheep in this country. They usually eat deer, rabbits and badgers."

West End – January 29, 2003

A Hampshire school declared its playing fields a no-go zone after two sightings of a big cat fitting the description of a black panther.

Children were told to stay close to the school building and staff were being extra vigilant at break times ready to bring pupils indoors at a moment's notice.

A teacher spotted the beast at 7.40am one morning and watched it stalk around the school boundary as she arrived at St James Primary School in West End.


St James Primary School in West End.

St James Primary School in West End.


One of the school's neighbours had warned staff the day before that he had seen the panther-like animal prowling the school premises.

Headteacher Alec Smith sent a warning letter out to parents.

He said: "The teacher saw a black cat which was bigger than a labrador and was walking in a slinky way.

"All of our teachers are well aware of the situation, they are all taking extra care.

"We are not letting the children out on their own, they will always be supervised. The whole field is out of bounds and they are limited to the tarmac area."

Police wildlife crime officer Geoff Culbertson warned that the animal would probably only become dangerous if people tried to catch it.

He said: "Their senses are 100 times better than our own so you probably won't get anywhere near it.

"But if someone tries to kill it and it becomes wounded then it is more likely to go for an easy target like a child."

PC Culbertson explained that sightings of big cats in the UK could be as a result of the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act that prohibits members of the public from keeping them as pets.

After the legislation many owners simply turfed their exotic beasts out into the countryside to fend for themselves.

The sighting came just weeks after police sharpshooters staked out a farm in Wales where a puma-like cat attacked and killed a dog.

Mottisfont – 12th November 2004

A Dunbridge couple had an encounter with on of Hampshire's elusive big cat while dog walking.

Michael and Jackie Horne saw the black panther-like animal with a large tail in a meadow near a large private garden at Butts Green - close to the footpath linking Lockerley with Mottisfont and Dunbridge.

The couple spotted the creature at about 7.30am one morning. "It stayed there for quite a bit. I watched it through my binoculars. It was a very deep black and about 2ft tall and had quite a big tail. It was far too big for an ordinary cat. We were very surprised to see it. It was watching us for a while before it ran off," said Michae at the time.

He and his wife had their springer spaniel with them at the time. Michael would often take his binoculars with him while out on a stroll.

There had been numerous reports of a big cat-like animal roaming the mid-Test Valley area for some years with sightings at Lockerley, Mottisfont, Broughton, West Tytherley, West and East Dean, Nether Wallop, Little Somborne and Bossington.

David Taylor was walking his dogs at Frenchmoor Lane in East Dean just three months earlier when he had a brief encounter with the mysterious cat. Like others who caught sight of the animal, he described it as jet black.

And shortly before that, a panther-like animal ran across a country lane at Nether Wallop in front of Christine Shepherd and her friend Dave Chant's car as they were driving back to Dunbridge.

A spokesman for the British Big Cat Society said he was not surprised at the sightings. He said the number of reported sightings nationwide was growing.

Chandler's Ford – August 20, 2010


Dianne Moran on her patio where she glimpsed the ‘big cat’.

Dianne Moran on her patio where she glimpsed the 'big cat'.


A giant bizarre-looking creature said to be 4ft long, 2ft high and about four times the size of a domestic feline was spotted by numerous residents.

Eyewitnesses agreed it was dark grey with white patches, huge paws, long legs, a long curved tail, spiked-up fur and a wolfish appearance.

Witnesses likened its colouring to that of a snow leopard. There were five reported sightings of the cat by several different people, all in the Valley Park area of Chandler’s Ford.

It had been seen strolling across a sleepy cul-de-sac in the middle of the afternoon, raiding bins and even patiently waiting on a traffic island in a busy road for an opportunity to cross.

The first to suspect the presence of a mysterious beast was grandmother Dianne Moran, 66, who spotted the massive moggy’s footprints in the snow late last year.

She then got the shock of her life when she glanced onto her porch to see the cat leap over her 10ft high fence, make its way across her patio and disappear up a cut way.

She saw the animal twice more, darting about by the woods near Knightwood School.

The cat was also spotted by county, district and parish councillor Alan Dowden and his wife and fellow councillor Celia as it strolled past them in Knightwood Road.

Cllr Dowden drew a sketch of what the animal looked like

Councillor Dowden was so concerned he even informed local schools.


A sketch of the beast.

A sketch of the beast.


Chandler's Ford – October 5, 2016

It was the mysterious moggie that was the talk of a leafy Hampshire community.

Residents in the Itchen Valley spotted what they described as a ‘wild cat’.

The sightings baffled locals, some of whom thought an exotic feline may have escaped from Marwell Zoo.

One startled eyewitness was the assistant priest of Itchen Valley Parish, Rev Alex Pease, who was driving on Chilland Lane when he spotted the cat in the road.

Straight away Mr Pease wanted to find out whether anyone else had seen the feline and discovered that there had been several sightings in the Itchen Valley area.

He was convinced he may have seen a genet – a slender cat-like carnivore with a long body and a long ringed tail that is native to Africa.

Mr Pease said at the time: “I would say it is larger than a normal cat with a much larger and bushier tail, but the thing was its distinctive black face and pointed ears.

“It turned around and looked at me at one stage and then sauntered off down the path.

He reiterated that the creature should not have concerned residents and added: “It is not an alarming case of lock up your dogs and protect your baby situation, it’s too small for that!”


Residents baffled by mystery big cat.

Residents were baffled by this mysterious 'big cat'.


A Marwell Zoo spokeswoman said none of their animals had escaped

On further inspection and with the help of Luke Hunter, who was president and chief conservation officer of Panthera, a charity devoted to protecting big cats says he believes the cat is likely to be a ‘big domestic’ cat or a Bengal.

Netley – December 9, 2016

Dawn So of Derbyshire sent a letter to the Echo in 2016 detailing the unforgettable moment she spotted a large cat when she was in Hampshire almost 30 years earlier:

I was walking with my children on the grounds of the old Netley hospital, outside the wall of the then derelict former asylum, around 1988.

The path turned a corner around the wall and there was a breach in the wall where some of the brickwork had collapsed.

I glanced in and there about 9 yards away, sitting upright, facing me, and staring at me, was a large white animal!

At first I thought it was a dog because of its size, but it had slanting eyes and pointed, upright ears.

We stared at each other for a good few seconds, then suddenly it got up and turned and loped away. That’s when I realised that it was a cat!

I have never forgotten that moment, and have always wondered if anyone else has ever seen it?

Mobile phones weren’t around then, in the form they are now, so I couldn’t take a photo.

I’ve searched the internet for big cat sightings etc, but no luck. This was before the building was taken over to become part of the police training centre.

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