FOLLOWING a rash of alleged recent sightings of the Beast of Bolton, we chatted to British Big Cat Society founder and Boltonian, Danny Bamping, about the likelihood of its existence.

Danny, originally from Bromley Cross, set up the British Big Cat Society 20 years ago after spotting a large cat-like creature himself in Kent.

He now investigates reports of phantom cats, also known as Alien Big Cats – the terms given to large felines that allegedly appear in regions outside their indigenous range.

He attributes the phenomenon to the availability of big cats for sale as pets in stores like Harrods in London until the mid 1970s, and also to American aircrews from the Second World War.

“During the war, American aircrews brought bob cat and puma cubs over as mascots. By the time the war was over they were fully grown, so they couldn’t just put them in their planes and fly home,” he explained.

Danny points out that many species we think of as British were brought into the country from elsewhere – including the Romans introducing rabbits.

Big cats’ ability to interbreed and create hybrid species such as the Liger leads him to believe that the big cats sighted in Britain could be new to science – having interbred from store-bought animals and feral creatures imported to Britain for a variety of reasons.

“You could walk into Harrods in London and buy a cheetah until 1973, and the laws on ownership only changed in 1976,” Danny added.

“At that time, most people gave them to zoos or, unfortunately, had them put down. What the Government failed to legislate against were people who had developed emotional attachments to their animals and simply took them out on the Yorkshire Moors or Pennines and released them.

“It was only in 1981 with the countryside act that the loophole was closed. There was a five-year legal window to introduce wild animals into the British countryside. What we’re experiencing now are the offspring from that.”

Danny said some sightings could be attributed to Royal Bengal cats, which are larger than average domestic cats and have a similar patterning to leopards.

But he believes many to be genuine, and the sheer range of one animal could be responsible for numerous sightings.

“Realistically, the only one that could live in Britain is a leopard. If there was a lion, we would know about it,” Danny said.

“Leopards are only 28 inches from shoulder to shoulder and they’re the most elusive. They can cover up to 35 kilometres in a night.”

And what of the threat?

“If people don’t approach them and they’re no threat, they’re just going to run in the opposite direction. Most cats that are in the wild don’t want to be seen. They will see a human as a threat.”

Do you believe in the beast, or have you captured a picture of it? Get in touch via, Facebook through, or Twitter @TheBoltonNews

Here are eight previous sightings of the Beast of Bolton from our records:

In June 2006, head of English at Rumworth School, Anne Wright, said she saw the creature as she looked out of the bedroom window of her home in Spring Meadows, off Radcliffe Road in Darcy Lever.

Also in 2006, Leighton Brierley said he and four friends came across the animal, in Bromwich Street as he was leaving his girlfriend’s apartment. The beast emerged from a nearby garage and brushed past his leg, making Leighton the only person to have claimed to come into direct contact with the animal. Leighton came forward with his story in November, 2015.

After a three year hiatus, the beast was back in 2009, when Peter Wood, of Poulton Avenue, Breightmet, spotted the animal in Leverhulme Park.

Around the same time, Barry Calvert said he spotted it near the Schoenstatt Shrine, in Kearsley.

In October 2010, Hollands Nurseries worker Barbara Cooke she saw a panther-like animal in a field in Bromley Cross.

Alanah Belk, aged 65, spotted the Beast in October 2012 in Farnworth Cemetary. She said: “We haven’t seen it for a long-time but we don’t walk the dogs in the field near the cemetery anymore. But some people have come up to us and said they had seen it too, so who knows? ”

Natalie Kay described the moment she came face to face with the elusive animal while driving her Vauxhall Zafira along Doe Hey Road at around 9.30pm on Tuesday, November 10, 2015.

In the most recent sighting, a woman saw a Lynx-like creature off the A6 in Blackrod on the evening of November 18 2015. The woman, who didn’t wish to be named, saw the animal from a distance of three metres. She said it was the size of a medium dog and had a striped face with a fur beard.