Big cat 'discovery' in UK could inspire trophy hunter killings, expert fears
DNA evidence has indicated a leopard species may be present in the UK.
A big cat expert fears trophy hunters could be lured to the UK after new DNA evidence indicated the large animals might be roaming parts of the country.
Frank Tunbridge, 74, who has studied big cats for over six decades, said they had probably been in the UK for 40 years but he was now concerned for their safety.
He added the latest findings could also put pressure on authorities to cull the animals due to public fear.
Documentary filmmakers claimed last week they had received a 99% DNA match on a hair sample found on a fence in Gloucestershire to the leopard species Panthera Pardus.
Tunbridge, from Podsmead, Gloucestershire, said: "The DNA confirmation is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I think more people will come forward with really good images now it's been verified.
"But I also fear that there we will suddenly get bounty hunters most probably coming out of the woodwork shooting them.
"With trophy hunters, they won't just want a blurry photo. They'll want something more realistic to show their friends."
Tunbridge, who runs a big cat sighting hotline, is also concerned that panic from the public will force authorities to step in and disturb the animals.
He receives on average of three calls reporting big cat sightings a month but is confident they are not dangerous to the British public.
He added: "Unfortunately, if the police realise there's something potentially dangerous out there they'll have to have a contingency plan - even though the big cats never hurt anyone."
The findings have come to light as part of filming for Dragonfly Films' upcoming documentary, Panthera Britannia Declassified, which investigates claims of big cat sightings in Britain.
Dragonfly's Matthew Everett started investigating after receiving a second report from a Gloucestershire farmer that one of his lambs had been attacked.
A forensic laboratory, which wanted to remain anonymous, took on the species identification task and used mitochondrial DNA analysis to ascertain a 99% match to a big cat species.
It has been suggested big cats, among other exotic animals, were released into the wild in Britain following the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976.
This act ensured that if individuals kept dangerous wild animals, they did so in a way that posed no risk to the public and safeguarded the animals' welfare.