Thu, Mar 24, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Attack by a giant `puma' leaves London trembling

BIG CAT This is not the first time that a huge feline has been sighted in Britain, and the discovery of paw-prints and droppings has lent credence to the tales

AFP , LONDON

A giant puma-like cat was feared to be on the loose in one of London's leafiest suburbs on Tuesday after a man said he had been pounced on by a creature, which then stood hissing on his chest.

Anthony-John Holder, who escaped with scratches and bruising after the incident in his garden in Sydenham Park, a suburb in the southeast of London, said he feared the animal could kill someone.

Holder, 37, had ventured to the bottom of his garden late on Monday after hearing his own pet cat howling.

"All of a sudden I see this big black thing pouncing at me, knocked me flying. I was just stunned with it all," he told the London-based radio station LBC.

"I just didn't know where I was, and the next thing there was this big black figure laying on my chest," he said. "It was growling, growling at me and hissing and it then started scratching."

Holder said he had used "brute force" to push the animal, described as being roughly the size of a Labrador dog, away from him.

"This thing knew what it wanted. If I was weak ... I think it could have killed me and then it could have gone on to hurt my family and everything else. I do think it would have done damage to someone," he said.

Police, who were called by the terrified Holder, said they were seeking advice from London Zoo and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which deals with stray animals in Britain.

"We are advising the local public if they see the animal, do not approach it and to report it to police using [emergency number] 999 and to keep pets indoors," a spokesman said.

In recent years, sightings of giant cats have been reported throughout Britain, but although livestock have supposedly been attacked a number of times, there have been virtually no instances of encounters with humans.

Initially dismissed by scientists as unlikely, evidence from pawprints and droppings has led many to conclude that a number of big cats, perhaps released into the wild from private zoos, are roaming the country.

The notion of a puma living in London is also not as far-fetched as it might seem.

Despite its size and population, London has far more green spaces than most similar-sized cities, both in hundreds of public parks and squares and through the gardens of terraced homes, which form the bulk of its housing stock.

Around 15,000 foxes are believed to live in the capital, as well as a large number of squirrels and other creatures.

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