"A wildlife expert says the potential sighting of a black panther off the A38 should be taken 'very seriously'.
"The animal was spotted by dad-of-three Matt Chambers who says he was driving back from work when he saw 'the biggest cat I have seen in my life' in a field on the Derbyshire border between Egginton and Stretton.
"The black cat was spotted not far away from the River Dove. It is the latest in a long string of sightings reported in the Derbyshire area over the past decade.
"And Danny Bamping, from the British Big Cat Society, said it was likely Mr Chambers's eyes were not deceived.
"Mr Bamping argued the availability of big cats for sale as pets in stores like Harrods in London until the mid-1970s, and also to US aircrews as far back as the Second World War, meant there was indeed a black panther on the loose.
"He said: 'During the Second World War, American aircrews brought bob cat and puma cubs over as mascots. By the time the war was over they were fully grown, so they couldn't just put them in their planes and fly home.
"'You could walk into Harrods in London and buy a cheetah until 1973 and the laws on ownership only changed in 1976. At that time, most people gave them to zoos or, unfortunately, had them put down.
"'What the Government failed to legislate against were people with emotional attachments to their animals who simply took them out of the Yorkshire Moors or Pennines and released them.
"'It was only in 1981 with the Countryside Act that the loophole was closed. There was a five-year legal window to introduce wild animals into the British countryside. What we're experiencing now are the offspring from that.'
"Following Mr Chambers's apparent sighting, reader Arthur Smith took to the Derby Telegraph website to add weight to his claim.
"Mr Smith posted: 'I too saw this black panther two years ago bounding across a field next to the Ticknall turn off by Stanton by Bridge, while traveling towards Melbourne.
"'Unlike in the movies where someone sees a monster, rubs their eyes and then thinks to themselves 'oh I must have been seeing things', I most definitely did see an enormous black cat that could only have been a black panther running at speed across that field.
"'It wasn't a little pussy cat or a black sheep or anything other than a black panther. I do know what I saw.'
"Not everyone is convinced, however. Neil Dorman, Twycross Zoo conservation programs and planning curator, said he doubted the claims.
"He said: 'Having worked in this environment for a number of years, I don't think large wild cats, such as panthers or leopards, live here in the Midlands.
"'When the Dangerous Animals Act came into force 40 years ago, some people did let big cats go but the chances these cats had any offspring and that they survived until now are minimal.
"'The lifespan of big cats in zoos is approximately 20 years and 12 to 14 in the wild so any such cats that were released back then would not be alive now.
"'If there had been more than one released and had they bred, we would get reports of people seeing them far more often. There have been nowhere near enough possible sightings, which makes me believe there cannot be a sustainable wild population.
"'We would now be in a third generation and, even though it only takes one pair to start breeding, the cats would have problems with interbreeding and would not have survived long enough to still be around.
"'I would say that people just misinterpret what they see and I am very doubtful of the reports.'"
Of course, if there were big cats released in the 1980s, I bet there would have been more than just two released, so there may possibly be a breeding population in Britain. It is claimed that Mary Chipperfield, who owned the Dartmoor Zoo, released three big cats into the wild after her zoo shut down in 1978. So there's at least three, not counting all those likely released by exotic pet owners over the years...