IS THE BEAST BACK?|Richard_F||08/24/06 at 17:03:09|richard_f|xx|0||IS THE BEAST BACK?

COULD Claws be back on the prowl in the Ipswich area?

Motorist Steve Fulcher is convinced he saw a large black cat-like creature,
larger than a labrador dog, cross the road in front of him as he drove to

The creature - which he is convinced was a panther - crossed the A1214 from
Rushmere Heath to the open land between Woodbridge Road East during the rush
hour on Monday morning.

There was not a great deal of other traffic on the road - shortly before
9am - but Mr Fulcher said a people carrier vehicle was approaching from the
opposite direction when the animal bolted across the road.

Mr Fulcher said: "It was larger than a labrador, but it was definitely a
cat. It was not a dog at all.

"I've logged my sighting with the British Big Cat Society - I'm sure it was
a panther or something like that."

He returned to the area to see if he could find any evidence of the big
cat - especially footprints in the damp soil.

"I would have thought the ground would have been just right to hold a
footprint. I would love to find some evidence of the panther.

"If Rushmere Heath is a regular haunt for something like this then I can't
believe no one has seen it before - I don't think I'd fancy walking around
the heath if this is around," he said.

Mr Fulcher's sighting is the first the Evening Star has heard of in the
Rushmere area - although in the late 1990s there were several reports of
large cats being spotted in the Foxhall and Bucklesham area.

This creature was nicknamed Claws - but despite all the sightings, no
positive evidence of its existence was uncovered.

The British Big Cats Society monitors reports of sightings across the
country and received more than 60 reports from Suffolk between April 2004
and July 2005.

The number of big cat sightings has increased dramatically over the last 30
years since the Dangerous Animals Act was passed in 1976.

That introduced tight restrictions on people keeping potentially dangerous
animals, and it is believed that several unscrupulous owners set their
animals free rather than spend money on improved security.

Some of these are thought to have bred in the wild. Large cats like pumas or
panthers can have large territories - so sightings from across Suffolk could
be of the same creature.