REPORTS of big cats prowling the British countryside have long been hard to prove and are often dismissed as myth.

But now a new study at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester could help prove the existence of big cats is much more than a fable.

Dr Andrew Hemmings, a senior lecturer in equine science, is examining the skeletal remains of mutilated livestock from the Cotswolds and has discovered evidence to suggest they were killed by large feline predators.

He is studying the toothmarks left on the bones of 23 different carcasses, ranging from deer, sheep and wild boar, and the results suggest they could have been killed by big cats.

Dr Hemmings, 39, said: “We are excited as we are finding some tooth pits in many of the bones that suggest the animals could have been killed by a large-sized feline, but at the moment it is impossible to tell whether they have been caused by a domestic dog or big cat.

“We have only looked at the front teeth indents and it is hard to distinguish between the two animals. Next we are going to look at their back molars because they leave a specific type of imprint that can only be left by big cats.”

The results of the next stage of the study, which is examining 15 sets of remains with toothmarks, is out next month and could provide concrete evidence for the first time as to whether the animals were killed by a big cat, such as a panther or leopard.

To record data, Dr Hemmings uses dental putty to make casts of bones, and then digital callipers to make accurate measurements of imprints.

All of the remains used in the study were submitted by a landowner who suspects the animals were killed by big cats.

Big-cat expert Rick Minter is acting as a consultant to Dr Hemmings and his book, Big Cats: Facing Britain’s Wild Predators, has part-inspired the study.

The pair often give big-cat talks around the region, with the next one taking place at the Gateway Centre, South Cerney, on October 9. Dr Hemmings said it was often members of the public at these talks who help locate new search areas.

If you wish to buy tickets for the talk at the Gateway Centre visit:

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