THE RECENT cold weather may have finally provided evidence of the existence of a big wild cat living in the Five Valleys.

Various sightings of an elusive creature, described as being the size of a Labrador, have led more residents to believe in the existence of a big wild cat.

The SNJ has agreed not to print exact details of the locations as some residents are worried it would put the animal in danger.

Many sightings have been focused in Thrupp where up to 15 residents believe they recently saw a large wild cat scavenging in bin bags.

One resident, Coryn Memory, a teaching assistant at St Rose's School in Stroud, believes she has photographed the animal's prints in the snow.

Her friend Jane Spicer, who lives next door in Thrupp, took her dog out into her front garden at 9.15pm on Monday, January 11.

She then saw a Labrador-sized black cat, with a long tail, run across the road into a field.

Ms Spicer, 53, was previously skeptical but this sighting left her in no doubt that it was a large wild cat.

She and Ms Memory then took photographs of the paw prints.

"The prints measure about 9cm from front to back and the animal's stride is about 120cm long," she said.

"Tail marks can also be seen."

The sighting was reported to big cat investigator Frank Tunbridge who drove to Thrupp in the hope of spotting the cat but heavy snow made it impossible.

He did collect droppings which may have been left by the animal and will dissect them to see if they contain traces of deer hair and bones.

Other sightings in the area were also reported to Mr Tunbridge, who keeps a record.

The first was in Rodoborough on New Year's day and the next was in Thrupp three days later.

Chris Phelps, 23, was at a house in Thrupp when he spotted what he believed to be a big cat walking across a field into woodland behind the house.

Mr Tunbridge explained that more sightings are likely due to the weather as more big cats come out of the woodland to look for prey, such as voles, field mice and deer.

He also said that snow and less foliage made them easier to spot.

"This time of year is also their mating season so they come out of familiar surroundings to look for a mate," he said.

"I think the sightings are all probably the same one or two cats, as most cats are very territorial."

Mr Tunbridge is determined to prove the existence of big wild cats in Gloucestershire and has set up three cameras to monitor their activity in the Five Valleys.

He believes most of those spotted are descended from animals like pumas or panthers released into the wild by owners after the Dangerous Animals Act 1976 tightened up regulations over keeping them as pets.

He thinks the cats are hybrids, evolved from bigger exotic cats and breeding as a distinctive British type.

To report any sightings call Mr Tunbridge on 0711476715. All calls are taken in confidence.