A DOGWALKER had a close encounter with a ‘grey, mottled big cat' in Ellesmere Port yesterday.

A woman was exercising her spaniel in an enclosed area of Whitby Park, near the tennis courts, the mystery beast appeared just six feet away on the other side of the fence.

The short-haired, slender and bushy-tailed creature, which was bigger than Carol’s dog, stood glaring at the woman before it disappeared into the bushes at about 8.30am on Monday (February 1).

Carol, who asked her surname not to be used, reported the incident to Puma Watch North Wales, a group set up to document and investigate such encounters, which has had several reports from Chester and Ellesmere Port recently.

Carol said: “I was in an enclosed area by tennis courts with my dog, he was the opposite side of the area. A large cat-like animal, about 6 to 8 foot away from me on the opposite side of the fence, stood staring.

“I went to take my phone out of my pocket to take a photo and it ran off into the bushes as my dog had come running over to me. It was bigger than my spaniel but short hair with a bushy tail and slender.

“I stayed in the area for about 20 minutes hoping it would reappear so I could get a photo but saw no further sighting.”

After reading the story, some people have said they have also seen a cat-like creature while others have said the description sounds like a fox.

This latest report comes just a few weeks after a big cat with a similar description was spotted nearby on Ince Marshes.

There have also been two recorded encounters with a big cat in nearby Chester recently, with one caught on camera on Chester Meadows followed by a report of an animal growling at a dog walker.

But such sightings are not a recent phenomenon. In 1999, and again in 2005. That creature, or perhaps creatures, was dubbed the Beast of Rivacre and descriptions varied, with many describing a big cat similar to a panther or lynx.

Tony Jones, of Puma Watch, said: "Way back in 2011, someone called 999 after spotting a tiger roaming wild at the same location.

"And last month, Cheshire Police announced they were investigating whether “a larger predator” was responsible for a series of sheep killings, saying that “a large, black-cat type animal” had been spotted nearby.

"Big cats such as pumas are solitary with a hunting range of dozens of miles. They’re mostly spotted in Snowdonia and the Clwydian hills but reports of sightings in urban locations some distance from these areas are becoming more frequent.

"As seen with Llandundo’s now-famous goats, who have taken to roaming the town’s deserted streets during the coronavirus lockdowns, it’s likely that the reduced levels of human activity over the last year is encouraging big cats to roam further from the hills into more populated areas.

When big cats were banned as pets in the 1970s, it was legal to release them into the countryside to avoid expensive rehoming costs. Owners from across the UK travelled to areas like Wales to release their "cats in the remote environment, where small but significant populations have thrived ever since."