THE Welsh Government will take big cat sightings seriously and investigate them after a spate of encounters in North Wales in recent months.

Big cat sightings are being reported almost weekly, with encounters, as well as mysterious footprints, reported in Ceiriog Valley, Buckley, Corwen, Denbigh, Llangollen, Mold, Mostyn, Pontybodkin, Pentre Halkyn, Rhuallt, and Talacre in 2020 and 2021.

There have also been sightings in Chester and Ellesmere Port.

In addition, there has been evidence in the form of savaged sheep carcasses and scratch marks on trees reported in west Wales and Snowdonia.

Some people dismiss them as hoaxes or misidentification, and it is true that some sightings are likely to be dogs, domestic cats, or foxes.

But others believe that there is a small big cat population here in North Wales, which is an open secret among those who know.

In light of the recent sightings in North Wales, including several in his constituency, MP for Delyn Rob Roberts wrote to the Welsh Environment Minister Lesley Griffiths about the phenomena.

In her reply, seen by the Leader, the Minister said no conclusive evidence of big cats in Wales had been found as yet but that reports made to the Department for Economy, Skills and Natural Resources are investigated.

She said that when the presence of big cats is suspected, Welsh Government officials not only examine video footage but also visit the location of sightings, where they take casts of paw prints and even collect livestock carcasses for a post mortem examination.

Once evidence gathering is complete, officials consult with a multitude of experts, including researchers at zoos and universities.

She said: “The Welsh Government’s policy is to investigate any reports received by the Department for Economy, Skills and Natural Resources of alleged sightings and attacks by big cats on livestock in Wales.”

“Alleged sightings reported to the Welsh Government are taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. If hard evidence is provided, my officials from the Wildlife Team carry out site visits, collect livestock carcasses for post mortem, assess video footage, take casts of paw prints and investigate any other evidence indicating the possible presence of big cats.”

The Minister added that big cats sightings should be reported directly to the police when it is believed there is a threat to human life.

She added that investigations had no found evidence of big cats in the Welsh countryside - but also that the recent reports in North Wales had not been made to the Welsh Government.

Most of the recent sightings have been reported to Puma Watch North Wales, a group set up to investigate and document sightings.

Founder Tony Jones said: "Big cats such as pumas are solitary with a hunting range of dozens of miles. They’re mostly spotted in Snowdonia and the Clwydian hills but reports of sightings in urban locations some distance from these areas are becoming more frequent.

"Dozens of sightings have occurred in Flintshire since the summer, with many happening on Halkyn Mountain or near Pontybodkin – both just a few miles either side of Mold. Big cats have also been reported in Connah’s Quay.

"As seen with Llandundo’s now-famous goats, who have taken to roaming the town’s deserted streets during the coronavirus lockdowns, it’s likely that the reduced levels of human activity over the last year is encouraging big cats to roam further from the hills into more populated areas."