IS THE BIG CAT BACK?

FRESH reports that a large wild cat is roaming the north Antrim coastline have been circulating within the past week.

The claims revive memories of two wild cats believed to be living locally exactly nine years ago – a story that gripped public interest and led to widespread searches of the countryside by police and officers from the USPCA.

At the time, some took the matter with a pinch of salt but dawn to dusk operations were carried out with helicopter and a police air support unit brought in such was the concern of the authorities.

This week, the Times has spoken to a number of people one of whom said he had a definite sighting in the Stranocum area within the last few days.

Mr. Eddie Donnelly from Ballintoy said he and a friend, Hugh Osborne, were returning home from a function in Armagh. At around 11.30 p.m. they were driving near Stranocum when they spotted a “large black thing on top of a wall.”

“I had no doubt it was a big cat. It had a tail about a metre long and I said to Hugh ‘did you see that and he said yes.’ It definitely looked like a puma or panther,” Mr. Donnelly said.

A couple of days later I got an email from Hugh to say that a large cat, possibly a puma, had been spotted near Ballymoney.

“I also know that people have been woken in the middle of the night by howls. A torch was shone and it seems there’s no doubt it was a large animal which disappeared into the bushes.”

Mr. Donnelly recalled the previous searches for what was believed to be two black cats in the north Antrim area and said he had been very sceptical about the stories, but this time he had no doubts.

“What I saw with my own two eyes was definitely a big cat,” he added.

The story was further underpinned by local farmer, Stanley Jamieson, who said he had found one of his lambs dead with a slit on the side of its neck at Lagavar near Ballinlea.

Another lamb had a chunk taken out of its hip and a sheep also had an injury caused to its shoulder which Mr. Jamieson says must have been caused by an animal such as a puma or panther.

He also reported that he had been speaking to a farmer from Mosside who reported a large bite to one of his cows.

Mr. Donnelly has reported the incident to the Ulster Farmers Union amid concerns that soon young lambs will be coming down from mountain areas and will be grazing in lowland parts where they will be more vulnerable to attacks.