IS there a panther on the prowl in Wigan?
Stunned civil servants have told how they spotted a mysterious black beast from their office windows.
The creature was observed for some time in the ‘‘wilds’’ on the Three Sisters country park, at one point climbing a tree and settling in to survey its unlikely territory.
It then jumped onto a wall and a roof before disappearing into the undergrowth.
The animal, which was between 100 and 150 yards away, was witnessed by at least half a dozen stunned staff at the DWP’s giant Griffin House Job Centre Plus call centre whose rear windows overlook the sprawling former pit ruck site which these days connects with open land as far away as Bickershaw and Abram.
Eye witness Julie Fairclough says she knows the difference between a pet moggy and a Big Cat.
She said: “I’ve got a tom cat called Oliver who weighs in at a stone and four pounds so I know the difference between a big pet and this amazing animal.’’
But Wigan Leisure Trust’s repected countryside manager Graham Workman, who was once called out by police after reports of a lion stalking through the undergrowth of Worthington Lakes, believes the six benefits staff were “mistaken.”
He warned: “Animals seen at that type of range with the naked eye can be very difficult to identify accurately.’’
Mrs Fairclough, who lives in Hindley, said: ‘‘It was seen by five or six staff, I saw it first and then we all had a good look.
‘‘We were all inside working but we could all see it clearly from the windows because it was quite close to the staff car park.
‘‘It’s a call centre and I am tied to the desk but I have one view of the world, which is this window and I am gazing at this scene all day long and it was then that I saw this fabulous creature about 150 yards away.
“I called my workmates over to have a look because I could hardly believe my eyes and there were quite a few eventually looking.
‘‘At first I saw it in a tree and initially I thought it was a big group of birds roosting together and then it started moving and I realised what I was looking at ... a sleek, black big cat.
‘‘It jumped a gap to sit on the top of a building and later when I went out to check the gap was about 12 feet so it shows the size of the animal we were looking at.
‘‘It was literally walking backwards and forwards in an area and it looked like it was patrolling.
‘‘I have a big domestic pet cat myself and this was huge, it would make 25 of my Oliver. I am four feet 11 tall and this would have been up to my hip.’’
Countryside manager Mr Workman said he went dashing out to Lawns Wood about six months ago over a similar sounding sighting as this but in this case the caller was convinced he had seen a Bob Cat (Lynx) – but nothing came of it.
“Before I went out I gave our licensing people a ring because animals like this have to be registered with the local authority under the Dangerous Wild Animals legislation.
“There were non registered here or with Bolton or Lancs County and that is certainly the case here with panthers, there are none living legally within the borough.
‘‘I believe that they have seen a big black cat and the perspectives have been playing tricks on them. I have been over there in the snow many times this winter and never seen any tracks that could suggest we have a creature anywhere near that size ranging around Three Sisters. A big cat like that would also need a steady supply of sheep rather than a few measly ducks to eat to keep it going so if there was one hunting around there I find it impossible to believe we wouldn’t have already heard about it from angry farmers.’’