Hundreds of big cat sightings have been reported in Britain in the last three years. But is it pumas and panthers running wild – or our imagination?
There is no doubt in Anne Terranova’s mind. There wasn’t at the time and there hasn’t been since. It was just after noon on a cold Wednesday in December. Anne and a friend were making their way up a hill above Nailsworth, in Gloucestershire, where she’s lived for the past eight years. The trees had long lost their leaves, granting glorious views back over the valley. This was a route Anne had taken once or twice before, one of many local walks she’d been ticking off since taking a part-time job at a building society. After 25 years as a primary school teacher, the job was a last stop on the way to a well-earned retirement. Reaching the top of the hill, the two women stopped to catch their breath, turning back to admire the scenery. As they did, Anne’s friend gestured down the hill. There, at the bottom of the field sloping gently away from them, was a large animal padding slowly alongside a wooden fence towards a patch of woodland. It was sleek, a dark sandy brown colour, roughly the size of a Labrador, with a long tail that looped upwards. “What on earth is that?” said Anne’s friend. “That,” Anne replied, without taking her eyes off the animal, “is a very large cat.”
Anne watched enthralled as the creature swiftly and gracefully disappeared into the trees. When she arrived home later that afternoon, she searched online for images of mountain lions. The pictures were an exact match. When she described her experience on a local Facebook group, the post accrued dozens of comments. “Had you been to the pub?” asked one, mockingly. But other Nailsworth locals reported similar sightings of their own. One resident warned: “People might laugh, but wait until you see one.”
Don’t act as prey, is the key thing. Whatever you do, don’t run