A SMALL population of big cats such as pumas are living in North Wales, it has been claimed.

With two sightings in the region this week - in Snowdonia and Pentre Halkyn - a group called Puma Watch North Wales has been formed to keep track of encounters.

A spokesman said big cats have been sightings in unlikely places such as Wepre Woods and Prestatyn, but more often cats are spotted on the hills or mountains leading the group to believe there are small populations of big cats living in the Clwydian Hills and Snowdonia.

A spokesman for the group said: "Big cat sightings are frequent in North Wales, although we've noticed a bit of a drop off in the last three or four years, there would usually be a sighting reported in the local media at least every dozen weeks before that. Most sightings go unreported, especially when people are unsure about what they've seen, but to get some idea of the scale, back in 2006 BBC research noted over 100 sightings in Mid and North Wales over an 18-month period.

"There are countless accounts of sightings shared by locals, both recent and historic. It seems it's common knowledge among many local communities that a small population of big cats such as pumas exist within North Wales.

"We believe most of those reporting sightings did indeed see pumas or cougars. Some people say they aren't sure and it could have been something more common, though we have a Twitter account with a small established following and from the sightings reported to us, it's clear many are seriously and genuinely concerned.

"Some will immediately dismiss any reports in the media, but particularly after some of the closer encounters reported, there's no way someone could just have seen a loose dog or domestic cat."

And there is a serious side to the possibility of big cats roaming North Wales.

The spokesman added: "Pumas pose a threat to livestock such as sheep, particularly in lambing season. In 2015, a farmer near Beddgelert froze a lamb they believed a puma had killed in an attempt to have DNA testing carried out. They could also pose a risk to small children and pets and some local farmers believe they have been killing the badgers on their land. We believe many of the attacks on livestock blamed on out-of-control pet dogs are actually the work of predators roaming wild, though we acknowledge the threat posed by dogs should not be minimised and that they are still the likely perpetrators in most cases.

The latest sighting of a mystery beast was by cafe owner Robert Kardziz, who took over Billie Jeans in Pentre Halkyn in July.

Border Counties Advertizer:

The creature was spotted behind Billie Jeans

Robert said: "I was locking up tonight and heard some commotion in the yard behind the cafe. I popped down and a hissing cat ran past me. It had been in a fight with another animal. It was dark and l thought it was a badger or something similar. As l got closer, the thing came into focus and snarled at me before it ran off into the fields.

"It really shook me up."

Several explanations have been put forward to explain how big cats could be at large in North Wales.

The Puma Watch North Wales spokesman added: "When exotic pets were banned in the 1970s many simply released them into the wild, as any other option would have been expensive, and for some reason, it was completely legal to do this for five or six years until another law was passed to close the loophole. Big cats are well suited to the Welsh climate and terrain and as it was important to keep them away from humans, we think big cat owners from across large areas of England would have travelled to Wales to release their beloved pet in what they thought would be a better environment for it to prosper.

"Pumas and lynx are particularly suited to thrive here, indeed there are plans often put forward to officially reintroduce lynx to the area, and we believe there are small but not insignificant populations of puma living wild in Snowdonia and the Clwydian hills to this day.

"Even where they are a native species, pumas are solitary cats with a large territory and hunting range, so it's to be expected that it's very hard to set out to find one and that almost all sightings are coincidental, and the occasional sightings we get as far out as say Wepre Park or Prestatyn still fit this profile."