Concern is mounting that a big cat is on the loose in and around St Andrews.
It follows several confirmed sightings - including one as recently as only a few days ago - coupled with the discovery of the grisly remains of rabbits in one location on the edges of the town.
The creature, which is said to resemble a black leopard, has been seen in the area of the Grange Inn, in Lumbo Den and also a small wooded area close to the Strathkinness Low Road.
Local historian and artist David Joy, who resides at The Grange, told the Citizen: ”I have spotted it several times around here.
‘‘One night it was within a matter of yards of my front door and I could clearly see its eyes and I distinctly heard a low growl.
“It is without doubt a big black cat. I have found the remains of young rabbits on a number of occasions. They were obviously eaten by something large, as most of their bodies had been completely sheared off with only the rear legs and tail left.”
Another local, Fife Council gardener Alan Paton (35), was out walking with his 12-year-old son, Campbell, when they both saw the creature.
He said they had followed the burn which runs past a small wooded area between Denbrae Farm and the Strathkinness Low Road.
Mr Paton added: ”As we were chatting I saw a heron take flight from the other side of the burn and we both looked up and that was when something else caught our eyes as a black cat leapt over the burn and then bounded up the embankment.
“I turned to Campbell and said did you just see what I saw and he replied ‘a big black cat.’ At first I was so shocked I thought it couldn’t be, but it bounded up the embankment in three leaps and vanished into the trees.
“We were about 35 feet away and I noticed that its tail was very thick and we both agreed that it was about the size of a small Labrador. Once we both realised what we had witnessed we scrambled down to the spot where it had been, looking for pawprints, but the ground was covered in leaves etc. What we saw was no dog and definitely too big for a domestic cat.”
Another local woman was walking her dog and was watching two roe deer in Lumbo Den several days ago when she saw what she initially thought was a large black dog.
The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, added:”It was quite an exposed area so very easy to spot. As I watched it from across the burn I realised that it was not a dog, but a big black cat. The shape of it and the way it moved made me certain it was a cat.
“It was heading in the direction of the deer. Whether the cat spotted me or my dog, it turned and went back up the banking towards the fields.
“I put my dog on the lead and continued to the other side, went to the top of the banking and had a look over towards Spinkie Den, but it had gone.”
The sightings come as no surprise to local expert, George Redpath, a retired police officer, who has been collating evidence of big cats across Fife for several years.
He said:”There has been an increase in the number of reported sightings since the turn of the year. So far, I have heard of 10 in Fife, mainly in the north east of the county. They have been reported as mainly black cats, but a few have been dark brown or sandy coloured.
“Invariably, when I receive a call regarding a cat sighting, I am asked how many there are out there. Unfortunately I cannot answer that and like everyone else, I can only make an educated guess. It is obvious from the sightings reported so far this year - going by the colours - that there are at least three in North Fife, but I have no doubt that this number is a minimum guess.
“However, I have been recording sightings and researching big cats in Fife since the mid 1980s, and have no doubt regarding their existence, and that they are here to stay.”
Anyone wishing to contact Mr Redpath for information, or to report a sighting, can do so by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and also via the Citizen’s Facebook page.