POLICE are investigating a series of animal mutilations, which could be the work of a panther.
The partially-eaten bodies of three adult swans and two dead lambs were found at Three Sisters Recreation Area on Golborne Road, Golborne, and at an adjoining farm.
The discovery comes a fortnight after at number of civil servants from the DWP’s benefits call centre at nearby Griffin House, in Bryn, told of seeing a panther-like animal sunning itself in a tree, and on the roof of a building from their office windows.
Police today would not comment directly on the claims that a potentially dangerous wild animal is stalking the site.
However, officers from Bamfurlong Police Station are known to have interviewed Julie Fairclough, who first spotted the big cat, specifically about her shock sighting.
A spokesman for Wigan Police said: “On Friday, February 11, police were called to Golborne Road, Wigan, following reports two lambs had been found dead.
“At just after 10am on Sunday, February 13, police were called to the Three Sisters Recreation area following reports three swans had been found dead.
“Officers from the Ashton-in-Makerfield Neighbourhood Policing Team, the Hindley Neighbourhood Policing Team and the division’s wildlife crime officer are supporting inquiries being made by the Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust Ranger Service.”
A spokesman for Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust, which manages the Three Sisters site, said: “We can confirm that three swans have been found dead since Sunday. We have been liaising with the police and are investigating the matter.
“We have contacted experts to help us identify the type of animal that may have carried out these attacks.”
Mrs Fairclough, who has completed 30 years service for the DWP, said today that she was pleased that the police were taking the issue seriously.
But she made a plea that if a big cat is at large on the sprawling Three Sisters site, it must not be shot.
She wants experts to mount a humane operation to have it captured safely, and then released into a zoo park.
Mrs Fairclough, of Hindley, plus half a dozen of her colleagues at the DWP, spotted the mysterious black beast from their office windows.
The creature was observed for some time at about 150 yards away, at one point climbing a tree and settling in to survey its unlikely territory.
It then jumped on to a wall and a roof, before disappearing into the undergrowth.
Three Sisters, formerly a colliery site named after three now-flattened volcano-shaped pit rucks, connects with open land as far away as Bickershaw and Abram.
Mrs Fairclough 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 countryside manager Graham Workman, who was once called out by police after reports of a lion stalking through the undergrowth of Worthington Lakes, still believes the six benefits staff were mistaken.
Three Sisters wardens fear that the attacks could be the result of lurcher-owners illegally training their dogs to hunt – or a large dog fox.
Mr Workman warned: “Animals seen at that type of range with the naked eye can be very difficult to identify accurately.’
“Animals like this have to be registered with the local authority under the Dangerous Wild Animals legislation, but there are none registered here, so there are none that were living legally in captivity here in the borough or the surrounds.
“I believe that the staff have seen, literally, a big domestic black cat, and the perspectives have been playing tricks on them.
“I have been over there in the snow many times this winter.
“I have never seen any tracks that could suggest we have a creature anywhere near that size ranging around Three Sisters.”