A BIG cat expert is to give a talk to members of the public about sightings of the mystery creatures later this month.
Ian Bond got hooked on gathering information on the existence of big cats in Hartlepool and the surrounding area after having a close encounter with one of the felines about 10 years ago at Castle Eden.
And after recording almost 200 sightings of the elusive pumas, panthers and other big cats, the 51-year-old Hartlepool Borough Council ecologist gives talks to members of the public about the subject.
“There are a lot of people who are intrigued by reports and sightings of big cats,” said Ian, a dad-of-two.
“I’ve never seen one myself but I’ve heard one years ago when I was working as a countryside ranger.
“Somebody came to me and said there was a big cat behind a bush and it had chased their dogs. I went out and when I got to the spot where they had described I heard this really deep growl which just stopped me in my tracks.
“It was nothing like a dog’s growl, I’ve never heard anything like it before. I was frozen to the spot, I was terrified.
“About a minute later I heard the growl again but it was further away. It didn’t threaten me or anything, it just growled and walked away behind the woodland along the edge of a field.”
His experience sparked a decade of collating sightings of big cats across the whole of the North-East, and even writing a book about his findings called The Path of The Panther.
He said: “I have received getting on for 200 reports. The most common location for the reports that I receive is the area to the north and west of Hartlepool over towards Sedgefield and Wingate.
“However, almost all of these reports have been of a large black cat resembling a panther. Only three of the local sightings described a puma, which is a large sandy-brown coloured cat, and all of those were at Wynyard Woodland Park, albeit over an 11-year period.”
Last week the Mail reported how Hartlepool man Mal Sandles, 67, discovered what he believed was a puma’s footprint in a patch of mud near to Nine Acres, in Hart Village.
In March 2005 brothers Reece and Aaron Luckett, of Masefield Road, claimed they were followed by a “gorilla-shaped” animal while walking in Burn Valley Gardens, in Hartlepool.
In October 2004, Jack Smurthwaite, 78, and his neighbours’ children Liam Claughan, 11, and sister Emily, eight, all from Elwick, spotted a big cat and its cub while walking in the village’s woodland.
Ian, who lives in Darlington, will be giving the talk to Hartlepool Natural History Society, at Christ Church, in Hartlepool, on Wednesday, April 20, at 7.30pm, with the public welcome to attend.