Panther sightings in St Albans district confirmed? Sanctuary founder reports seeing black leopard

Could there be a Beast of Hertfordshire? Residents have reported seeing a panther (file photo) in Ha

Could there be a Beast of Hertfordshire? Residents have reported seeing a panther (file photo) in Harpenden and Hitchin - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Reports of recent panther sightings in the St Albans district have been reinforced by the founder of a big cat sanctuary, who said a puma has also been seen roaming near this area.

Terry Moore with snow leopard cubs

Terry Moore with snow leopard cubs - Credit: Archant

Following an article in last week’s Herts Advertiser about a panther crossing a road, 50 metres in front of a surprised Harpenden man jogging near Luton Airport, this paper has been contacted by many residents reporting similar sightings.

However, none had contacted Herts Police as in each instance the panther ran away and they did not consider it to be a danger to the public. Several said they thought the police had more important incidents to attend, while many people just want big cats left alone in the wild.

Also, it appears there are possibly two big cats roaming around Herts and nearby Beds, with people contacting this paper saying they had seen them at various places, including a golf course, in fields, woodland and carrying prey on hills.

Terry Moore, founder of the Cat Survival Trust which looks after an array of wild cat species on a 12-acre site in Welwyn, said: “A black leopard used to come over this way, up until two years ago. There have also been sightings of a puma in this area.

Colin Hayden and Terry Moore with snow leopards from The Cat Survival Trust in Welwyn

Colin Hayden and Terry Moore with snow leopards from The Cat Survival Trust in Welwyn - Credit: Archant

“I have seen a puma a couple of times, on the north side of Hertford, and also south of Hatfield station, but not for a couple of years.”

His sanctuary, a charity, has been in operation for four decades and in that time has helped place over 2,000 surplus captive cats and bred more than 250 cats in captivity.

Terry said that ‘fortunately’ none of the cats at his sanctuary, used for education and conservation purposes, had escaped their enclosures.

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But he suspects the animal would have come from a private zoo. More than 100 councils have issued people with licences to keep animals such as tigers and lemurs on private property, according to a Freedom of Information response to the Press Association, published in May this year.

When told about recent sightings including in Chiltern Green, near Harpenden, and in Coopers Green Lane, close to Smallford, Terry said: “We used to get a black leopard visiting the sanctuary, during mating season. They travel miles, so it is quite feasible it is the same one. I have only seen it once, but volunteers here have seen it on three occasions. When we’ve seen one near the sanctuary, we don’t get advance warning, so we don’t have cameras with us – it’s really annoying!

“It was seen in woodland, which is part of the property.”

Terry said that the animal spotted near the sanctuary “looked like a young female”.

He explained that the wild cat would be hunting for rabbits, deer, hare and even rats.

Apparently, over a decade ago two big cats - a mother and daughter - were seen in a neighbouring chalk pit, and it is possible the animal seen recently “is the daughter”.

Terry said leopards “can live for 15-16 years”, particularly with a plentiful supply of prey. He added: “They move over quite a wide range, and wipe out a rabbit population and move on. They tend to move at dusk or dawn and hunt then, as that is when deer wake up.”

Residents contacting this paper about recent sightings include John Page, of Marshalswick, who said he was ‘100 per cent’ positive he had spotted a panther.

He said: “Only about four months ago my wife and I saw it in the woods, along Coopers Green Lane, just past the Symondshyde turn-off. I was driving, and we both saw it at the same time; we looked at each other and said ‘did you see that? It looked like a panther’.”

John added: “It was just walking, not running. It was black, and big.”

A spokeswoman for Herts Police said that people seeing big cats in the wild should ‘keep a safe distance’ and phone 101 to report it.

Terry advised that if you do see one in the open, and it comes towards you, “shout and wave your arms, as they don’t like being shouted at”.