POLICE believe a pair of big puma type cats are prowling in woodlands near Stroud after the remains of three deer were found in the last two weeks.

Dog walkers have reported finding skin and bones near the railway line in Cowcombe Wood, where deer are believed to congregate.

Lynne Edmunds, an Amberley resident who said she spotted a big black cat on the commons 18 months ago, said two of her friends came across the remains.

"They are scientists so they know what they're talking about, and they say it was the backbone of a deer."

Wildlife officer Mark Robson, of Gloucestershire police, has been investigating sightings of cats over the past seven years and is convinced they exist.

"We interview witnesses and share our findings with experts," he said.

"When we interview people who have seen these animals we put our questions in such a way that they could not answer them if they hadn't seen them.

"Not that many people would make these things up and you can't ignore these sightings.

"We have things in place if we ever had reason to believe these cats posed a danger but they stay of the way."

PC Tyrone Mein, wildlife officer for the Stroud area, said the remains of deer were found recently with teeth marks that could not be identified.

"We do know that these could not have been a fox though because they are scavengers," he said.

"These remains were found close to the railway line, so it is possible they were struck, wondered off and were eaten by something."

Pumas can grow up to 1.8m and live on a diet of deer, small mammals, insects and fish.

Large and slender, their muscular limbs allow them to leap four metres into the air and over a distance of many feet.

There are well attested reports of big cats in the UK, particularly since the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 was introduced.

Owners of these cats released them illegally because they could not afford to build acceptable cages.