SEVERAL sightings of big cats in the Cotswolds have prompted an expert to suggest the wild animals are breeding in the countryside.

At 9.30am on January 12, Jo Williams was driving around the Cirencester Hospital roundabout with her friend Cynthia Hart when the pair spotted the feline on the land in front of the Roman amphitheatre.

The animal, which the pair described as long and black and as big as a medium sized dog, was seen near the place where Cirencester resident Mary Holker spotted a big cat in January 2012.

Cirencester resident Mrs Hart, a freelance swimming instructor, explained that the animal had the same posture as a cat and strode across the land before running off towards the trees.

She said: “When you actually see it, you think that they do exist. I have a cat and the one I saw was bigger. I wouldn’t be saying this if it was a normal cat.”

Cotswold big cat expert Rick Minter said that the pair's description of the animal matches that of a a black leopard, and he believes the numerous reports of similar creatures over the years suggest breeding is happening in the countryside.

He said: “Numbers may be limited, with litters of around three, some inbreeding, and some cub mortality. The cats communicate mainly by sound and by marking the ground with scent piles.

"The recent witness reports seem plausible but we don’t know if they are describing the same or different animals.”

In December, Sue Yells reported seeing a black leopard-like creature on the Countrywide roundabout on Spine Road Junction, off the A419 near South Cerney.

Mrs Yells, from Fairford, said she was convinced that what she saw was a big cat as she knows a lot about animals because she has worked on a farm for six years.

"It came out of the bushes and onto the other side of the road," she said. "It ran across the road – I thought it was going to go onto the A419 and cause an accident but then it went round down into the bit that leads to the river."

Mr Minter is working with the Royal Agricultural University to gather evidence of attacks on livestock and deer, which could have been carried out by big cats. He said bite marks on some skeletons suggested they were responsible for the animals' deaths.

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