Is this the footprint of our puma?

A footprint in the grass near Hart Village
A footprint in the grass near Hart Village

A DOG walker believes he has found evidence that Hartlepool’s legendary puma does exist after he found a huge animal footprint in a patch of mud.

Mal Sandles was out walking his labradoodle dog Kaz near to Nine Acres, in the town’s Hart Village, when his attention was drawn to a large pile of white feathers.

The 67-year-old went to investigate and next to the bird’s remains he was shocked to see what he describes as a “very big” footprint, measuring 7ins by 8ins, which he believes is that of a big cat or even a puma.

Mal, a retired mechanical engineer, of Palace Row, in Hart, said: “I was walking along with the dog when this pile of feathers caught my attention. Right next to the feathers was this very big footprint.

“I mean my dog is seven-and-a-half stones and this footprint was bigger than his and seemed to sink into the ground more which would suggest that this animal was heavier.

“It wasn’t the same shape either. It had a big pad at the back and four at the front where its claws would be.”

Mal, now a carer for his 89-year-old mother Ethel, added: “I’ve never seen anything like it before. I thought, ‘by hell that’s a big print’ and I went on the internet and it looked very similar to what’s been reported as being a puma footprint.

“I also think the feathers belong to a seagull which I suppose a big cat could easily eat.”

The Mail has carried numerous stories over the years about sightings of big cats and pumas stalking Hartlepool’s countryside with readers casting judgement over whether they do exist or not.

Durham Police’s wildlife liasion officer Eddie Bell has regularly given his opinion on those sightings and was happy to share his views this time.

He said a puma’s print would be about 4ins or 5ins across, but Mal’s larger find could have been distorted in the wet mud.

He also suggested that the print could be a rabbit’s bottom and four paws which can sometimes look like a big cat print.

He said: “First of all, yes it could belong to a puma or big cat because curiously many years ago back in 1986 we did recover a puma’s footprint from Wingate.

“This print could look bigger if its been distorted in the mud, or sometimes if it’s a single print on it’s own it can be from a rabbit’s bottom making the larger back pad and its four paws make the four front prints.

“Without seeing the print I couldn’t say for sure, but it is the time of year for sightings because more people are out and about, and there’s not much vegetation and cover for big cats.”

Eddie said another way to distinguish between a dog and cat footprint is that claws can usually be seen in a dog print, whereas none are usually visible with a cat print as cats retract their claws.