Britain’s first national conference on big cats has been held in Leicestershire – a hotspot for sightings.
Big cats are thought by many to be responsible for stripping bare the carcasses of hundreds of sheep across the country.
In 2005, more than 1200 eyewitness reports were made from as far afield as Sutherland to Cornwall and Norwich to the Isle of Mull.
Conference-venue village Marston Trussell is thought to be a breeding ground for the animals because of its rocky, grassy landscape and 89 sightings were made in the past year, including one in the village itself.
Nigel Spencer, who set up the Leicestershire and Rutland Pantherwatch with his father David, charted scores of eye-witness reports and showed video footage of sheep carcasses found stripped to the bone, plus the plaster cast of a “cat” paw-print the size of a hand.
The biggest cluster of reported sightings is around the Rutland market town of Oakham, where one was reportedly seen strolling down the main street in the early hours.
David Spencer of Pantherwatch issued his first warning to farmers four years ago after the mutilation of a six-week old lamb at West End Farm, Keyham.
Only the head and legs of the lamb were left, and the attack was unlike any dog mauling or fox attack, said farmer Charles Green.