Fact, fiction or a hoax?|Richard_F|richard@cfz.org.uk|04/20/06 at 19:26:36|richard_f|xx|0||Fact, fiction or a hoax?

The police dossier on the elusive Fen Tiger shows it has been spotted 38 times - with more than 20 sightings in the last five years.

We are able to lift the lid on the details of the big cat evidence after we demanded details under the Freedom of Information Act.

There have been a number of credible reports of a creature like a black panther - while other witnesses have described seeing a lynx-like creature.

The evidence suggests that far from being mythical, there really is a beast or two roaming the wilderness. Sightings from Balsham to Ely and Granchester to Alconbury Weston add credibility to the once-mocked theory of a big cat in the fens.

In July 2002, a black panther was seen running in a park in Royston doing an estimated 45mph.

And in St Ives in October 2004, a vet reported two sheep found dead and one injured were victims of a large cat attack.

Police spoke to a resident in nearby Godmanchester, just over a month later, who believed a black puma had taken a cow reportedly abandoned in the road.

Martin Hale claims to have seen the big cat several times at the bottom of his three-acre garden in Rampton and even has the paw-prints to prove it.

The 54-year-old said: "I am 100 per cent sure the animal exists. Not only have I seen it, but I saw the cat-like prints. They were quite large and at the end of the pads there were quite deep claw marks."

Vernon Whiterod, 65, is also convinced. He stared the beast down while travelling from Waterbeach to his home at Histon Road, Cottenham.

He said: "I am definite this was a big animal. Its eyes reflected the headlights from our car like prisms.

"I used to be a shooting man and I have seen a lot of animals one way or another and I have never seen eyes like that before or since."

He also saw part of the body and reckons the animal could have been an ocelot or Spanish Lynx.

The British Big Cats Society works with the police and the Department for Food and Rural Affairs to further research into wild felines.

Danny Bamping, society founder, said: "Very much so, I think the Fen Tiger exists.

"We have had a lot of sightings of big cats in Cambridgeshire and we have some very good video evidence of the Fen Tiger."

A police spokesman said: "We have had a number of reports of big cat sightings over the years. Some of these reports have been very detailed and accurate. We would advise anyone who sees a big cat to contact police immediately."

But Kim Simmons, co-owner of Linton Zoo, is yet to be convinced. She said: "There has never been an accurate description. The first sightings go back to the 1970s so if it is the same animal it has got to be quite old or died of old age a long time ago. If it managed to reproduce there must have been quite few to start with. Pumas and panthers are quite susceptible to inbreeding and don't succeed, as we have found at the zoo.

"But we are open-minded about it and I am happy to look at any evidence."

Have you seen the Fen Tiger? Call the Newsdesk on (01223) 434439 and we'll call you straight back.