A COUPLE from Cirencester are convinced big cats are on the loose in the UK countryside after having a “shocking” encounter with a panther-like creature on the Fosse Way near their town.

About 8.10pm on Thursday September 10 , Susan Drew and her husband Mike were driving back home to Cirencester, when they came across the creature, which they said was three metres long, and describe as being black having a long tail and moving like a cat.

Mrs Drew said that as they rounded a bend of the road in the Chedworth area near the Hare and Hounds pub, they saw the creature cross the road, before disappearing into a hedgerow.

“It was big and black and it was a panther," said Mrs Drew who runs Belle Femme, a beauty salon in Cirencester.

“It made me jump, I said to mike ‘did you see what I see’ .My husband said ‘my God I can’t believe that’.

Before their encounter, the couple were unsure if big cats were on the loose in the countryside but Mrs Drew said that now they have no doubt that they are out there.

“No we are definitely believers - he is very sceptical, he laughed and joked about it before(the existence of big cats).”

Mrs Drew explained that she didn’t see the animals head as it was disappearing into bushes.

Big cat expert Rick Minter said that the Drew’s encounter is similar to around three quarters of reports of the creatures.

Mr Minter, who lives near Stroud is also an environmental consultant said: “Such cats, if released, could establish themselves here with a ready food supply of natural game in our countryside. They would avoid humans unless we disturbed them or they became stressed, which is unlikely given the good conditions they find.”

There have been several reports of black panther-like creatures in the Cotswolds earlier this year.

In February, big cat sightings were reported near South Cerney and in land in front of Cirencester’s Roman amphitheatre.

On January 21, Sue Ward said she saw a big black cat the size of an Alsatian when she was walking her dog Bailey, off Hatherop Road,in Fairfoird.

And Mr Minter said that that he received reports of a grey or brown cat on the Fosse way south of Cirencester in May, and a black one north west of Cirencester in June.

Have you seen a big cat? If so email bmc@wiltsglosstandard.co.uk