A PANTHER-LIKE creature spotted in Cirencester by a dog walker has added to fears that big cats are on the loose in the Cotswolds.

The sighting was made at the Roman amphitheatre on the outskirts of the town in the same week that the carcass of a roe deer was found savaged at Woodchester Park, near Stroud, in what experts believe was a big cat attack.

Mary Holker, of Oaklands in Cirencester, was walking her dog at around 8.30am last Friday (January 6) when she saw what she described as a big, black feline with a long tail race past her down the bank of the amphitheatre and into the grounds of Cirencester Hospital.

She said her Hungarian vizsla chased the creature but did not catch up with it.

She believed the animal was feline, but at around the size of a medium dog, Mrs Holker said it could not have been a domestic cat.

"I was rather taken aback when I saw it," she said. "I’m always sceptical when I hear about people seeing these things, but I really did."

Rick Minter, Gloucestershire author of Big Cats:Facing Britain’s Wild Predators, said there was evidence that there was more than one big cat in the Cotswolds and he was confident they were successfully breeding.

He said there had been several sightings in the Cirencester area before and the big cats were believed to be pumas or black leopard panthers.

A CCTV image was captured at Cirencester Hospital in 2005 which many believe was proof of a big, black cat living in the Cirencester area.

Now with the further discovery of the roe deer carcass at the National Trust’s Woodchester Park, big cat experts say the evidence is compelling that big cats exist in the Cotswolds.

The deer's injuries, and the way the carcass was consumed suggest it was the victim of a big cat attack.

Scientists from the University of Warwick have taken DNA samples from the deer carcass and are hopeful the results will back up the theory.

Mr Minter said: "It is very helpful to have this forensic study of the deer carcass. If it is a positive result that will be a game changer, it really will. Although we are very positive we have feral big cats in this country, the DNA analysis will cement it more."

He added that the big cats were unlikely to attack walkers or dogs, but warned that if someone was to spot one, they should not aggravate it or attempt to corner it as it could react viciously.

Any sightings or possible evidence on National Trust land can also be reported by email to nature@nationaltrust.org.uk