A GROUP investigating sightings of big cats had a busy time last month.
The Kent Big Cat Research Group has been investigating four alleged sightings across north Kent.
The group's founder, Neil Arnold, says the most recent sighting involved a man reported walking through Bean Country Park. His dog froze at the sight of a black cat in the woods.
According to Mr Arnold, this could be the same black leopard which was seen near McDonald's in Bluewater recently by a family.
On December 4 and December 8, drivers reported seeing a big black cat crossing the road near Dartford Heath at around 2am.
Mr Arnold believes the creature is a leopard roaming across its territory.
He says Kent is a perfect habitat for the the animal - as well as for a fawn-coloured puma spotted near Bluewater and a lynx in Gravesend - because there is plenty of food, water and wooded areas.
On December 10, a couple spotted an animal 50ft up a beech tree from their home near Thong Lane, Gravesend.
The creature was apparently trying to catch pigeons. When it climbed to 50ft, the birds flew off and the big cat dashed down the tree head first.
There were four sightings of big cats in Dartford Heath in October and November this year and countywide Mr Arnold receives around 280 reports of big cat sightings annually.
Mr Arnold, who has been monitoring reports of big cats for 15 years, says black leopards and similar creatures were popular pets in the 1960s and 1970s.
The introduction of a licence for the creatures could have meant hundreds were set free.
He said: "There are so many people seeing these cats all the time. It's very common."
Call 01634 302572 to report a big cat sighting.
BEASTS IN YOUR BACKYARD
OVER several years there have been scores of sightings around the borough of panther and lynx-like creatures.
In February last year, mum-of-three Debbie Marshall pictured what she believed to be a panther in a field at the bottom of her garden.
Mrs Marshall, of Crombie Road, Sidcup, told how the animal moved like a tiger rather than a domestic cat.
She said her neighbour's moggie was also in the field but was around "six or seven times smaller" than the beast.
A month earlier, News Shopper reported how a big cat had been seen near Churchfield Woods, Bexley Village.
Dog walker John Costin descr-ibed the animal as measuring a foot-and-a-half in length and looking like "a small lynx or bobcat with pointy ears".
And in April 2003, teenager Daniel Brown disturbed a giant black cat in the back garden of his home in Preston Drive, Welling.
Daniel, then 16, told how he opened the back door to let in his agitated pet cat.
As he looked out into the garden, he saw the waist-high creature.
He said: "I shouted at it and it looked at me before jumping over the next door neighbour's fence.
"I knew they existed but I didn't think there would be one in my back garden."