Published: 00:01, 27 October 2013
More than 20 big cat sightings have been reported to Kent police in the past three years.
A Freedom of Information Act request revealed the force has had 22 calls about big cats on the loose since September 2010.
Maidstone was second only to Medway as a hotspot for the beasts, with four reported. There were three unidentified animal sightings and in January bobbies were called after enormous paw prints were discovered.
The calls were among 13 cases where police took no further action, but twice patrols were sent to search for mysterious cats.
In 2010 officers went to look for one in Dartford, but when they checked local CCTV cameras, they saw nothing but a fox.
In June last year an animal was spotted in the Folkestone area, prompting officers to get in touch with Port Lympne wild animal park in case of a breakout.
The following September, sister animal park Howletts was also contacted after police received reports of a wild cat roaming in Canterbury – but all the park’s creatures were accounted for.
Police spokesman Adam Westgarth said officers would only attend if a member of the public was injured or if the animal posed a danger.
He said: “However, it is often the case that sightings are referred to external agencies who we work closely with, such as local big cat societies and the RSPCA who are better equipped to deal in these incidents.”
The number of annual sightings has remained constant since 2008.
Big cat expert and blogger Neil Arnold, who has had witnesses referred to him from the police, says there is evidence in Kent dating back hundreds of years.
He believes the only explanation is a breeding community of puma, lynx and black leopards.
He added: “People often report to me but others are more reluctant because they know that friends and family will ridicule them and yet such animals have been seen all over the UK by reputable witnesses, such as zoologists and police officers.”
More by this authorClaire McWethy