THE beast of Bolton — a big black cat which is said to stalk the fields around Darcy Lever — is a “very interesting and very genuine” possibility, according to experts.

Danny Bamping, from the British Big Cat Society, which is dedicated to investigating big cat sightings across the country, said he would treat any reports of the elusive animal “very seriously”.

His interest comes after the second sighting of a panther-like creature was reported in Bolton this month.

Mr Bamping said: “I think it’s quite likely that the beast of Bolton exists.

“I don’t think it’s going to walk into the town centre and parade in front of everyone, but some areas on the outskirts of Bolton are quite accessible without seeing too much concrete.”

Mr Bamping is originally from Bolton, but now lives in Plymouth.

The Bolton Wanderers fan added: “I think there’s more chance of seeing a big cat in Bolton than seeing a Wanderers victory.”

He also said that in the past he had received reports of big cat sightings in Farnworth, Harwood, Hawkshaw and Edgworth.

The latest sighting of the beast came from walker Barry Calvert, who said he spotted it near the Schoenstatt Shrine, in Kearsley, at about 10am on Monday.

It was the second sighting this month, following that of former policeman Peter Wood, of Poulton Avenue, Breightmet, who last week resurrected the mystery — after a gap of three years — when he spotted the animal in Leverhulme Park.

Mr Calvert, aged 58, of Holcombe Crescent, Kearsley, said he was able to watch the beast from a distance of about 120 yards for almost five minutes.

He said: “I saw this thing, and it looked like a black puma — big. It definitely wasn’t a domestic cat and it definitely wasn’t a dog.

“It was about four or five feet long, and it was walking cautiously, as though it was ready to go into stalking mode.

“It had pointy ears, like a cat, and it was very sleek, with high shoulders and a very long tail, about three foot, and you could see the size of its paws.”

The animal disappeared back into some reeds a few minutes later, and Mr Calvert did not see it again. He was unable to find any evidence, such as paw prints or fur.

Mr Calvert said: “I wasn’t scared, but I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I was shocked. I see a lot of things walking about, but I never expected to see that.”

Rumours of a panther-like cat in Bolton started three years ago, when two people spotted the beast in Darcy Lever.

Big cat experts say there are more than 1,000 recorded sightings in Britain every year.

It is thought many big cat pets were released into the wild in the late 1970s, when the introduction of the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act made it difficult for people to keep their exotic pets.