IT IS either a classic urban myth or creatures as exotic as black panthers and pumas really are roaming our countryside.

Some say it’s nonsense but reported sightings of big cats in Hampshire have risen sharply in recent years.

The sheer number of eyewitness accounts uncovered by a Daily Echo investigation is certainly impressive.

Pulling together records from the Forestry Commission through a Freedom of Information request, and records from Hampshire Police and Big Cats in Britain, we have compiled a list of 82 sightings.

Reports vary from a black panther-like creature which bizarrely “ran through school grounds” in Southampton in January 2003 to a beige puma which “bared its teeth aggressively” at Basingstoke train station in March 2004.||

Then there was the time in September 2005, when a black panther or jaguar was allegedly spotted as it very calmly “strolled in front of a car” at the Broadlands Estate in Romsey.

The number of sightings of the mysterious beasts is even higher according to other big cat enthusiasts.

Click here to read Hampshire’s Big Cat Files