Freedom of Information probe reveals big cat sightings in and near St Albans district

The Herts Police FoI response shows reports of panthers and other big cats in the county

The Herts Police FoI response shows reports of panthers and other big cats in the county - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Close to 30 big cat sightings in and near St Albans district have been reported to the police over the past five years, a Herts Advertiser investigation has found.

This paper lodged a Freedom of Information (FoI) request with Herts Police following recent reports of a panther being seen in the vicinity, including by a Harpenden man jogging near Luton Airport.

In it response, the force reveals that between 2011 and 2016 there were 26 reports of big cats prowling in the wild.

The majority - 11 - were of a panther, with one informant, in 2011, saying that after seeing a sheep being eaten by a panther, they “ran all the way home and our dog was going crazy, barking and yelping”.

Of the 26 reported sightings, nine were classified as unknown species, but shared similar characteristics with callers telling the police the big cats were ‘very large’ or the same size as a Labrador, brown or gingery in colour – and in one incident, just 20 feet from the informant.

Another contacted the police after seeing a “large brown cat in the road with its legs in the air” after it was allegedly struck by a vehicle near Morrisons in Borehamwood.

One caller saw a “massive black cat in the woods as I was walking” and told police that they ran away from the cat, which “came up to [a person’s] waist, completely black, definitely looked like a cat, not a dog [and] walked like a lion rather than a dog”.

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A farmer in north Hatfield informed the police of multiple sightings on their property of a panther. The FoI response said the person reported: “We live on a farm. There have been four sightings of a large black cat over the past two weeks, puma size with orange eyes.”

The third most reported cat was a lynx, with one person reporting seeing such a beast in their garden this year.

Several years ago the police were told of a large cat coming down from a tree in Welwyn that was a ‘gingery colour’ and the size of a big dog. They were concerned that it had escaped from a wild cat rescue centre nearby.

However, this paper recently spoke with Terry Moore, founder of the Cat Survival Trust which looks after an array of wild cat species on a 12-acre site in Welwyn, who said ‘fortunately’ none had escaped their enclosure.

He and volunteers at the sanctuary have seen a black leopard visiting the site’s perimeter, particularly during mating season.

The busiest year for sightings reported to the police was 2011, with nine in total, followed by three in both 2012 and 2013, two in 2014, including a “very large cat the size of a Labrador” in Baldock, four in 2015 and five this year, mainly of a panther.

Three years ago a puma was spotted in the woods in Park Street, and last year the police were warned about a “large cat, non-domestic” in Kimpton.

While such sightings have been officially registered with the force, this paper has been contacted by many other people who have also seen big cats in the wild, but have not reported their sightings because they thought the police had ‘more important things’ to focus on.

However, if you do see a big cat in the wild, Herts Police recommends keeping a safe distance and phoning 101 to report it.