There have been several sightings of over-large pussy cats reported in the national press of late. 

I was somewhat annoyed that such sightings were listed as being all over the country – but nary a mention of the Surrey Puma. 

What has become of it? Has it wandered into a neighbouring county and forgotten that Surrey is part of its name?

I have a copy of Surrey Folk Tales by Janet Dowling, published in 2013. There is a chapter headed The Surrey Puma but our big cat is dismissed and the author talks about ancient cats put in charge of this world by ancient mystics.

Back in 1997 zoologist Ian Baldwin, in Surrey Environmental News, was “independently researching the current status of big cats within Surrey.” He wrote there had been more than 90 sightings in Surrey since December 1994 with “a number of country people” hearing noises difficult to attribute to native or domestic livestock. 

Sheep and deer had been found “killed in manners likened to those of big-cat kills.” 

Although Ian reckoned many sightings were of large domestic cats, he had no doubt there was a small population of large cats in the county.

Janet Dowling, before going on to write about ancient cats,  quoted The Fortean Times of February 2002 reporting that, in a two-year period, 362 reports of the Surrey Puma were made in Godalming alone.  

She also wrote that in 1770 William Cobbett recorded a very large cat in Waverley Abbey. So, in 250 years the large cat was still roaming in that area – well, its progeny, one supposes.

Why are there only grainy pictures in existence? Puma-like cats tend not to wander about in broad daylight. If they hear someone coming they sink into deep shade. 

But there have been recent reports of dog walkers and joggers seeing such beasts, and these days almost everyone seems to have the wherewithal about them to take decent photographs. Thus there have been some recent pictures which do, indeed, seem to show a puma.

It would seem that much of the resurgence of interest in  the Big Cats is a result of a documentary on Amazon Prime: Panthera Britannia Declassified. I do not have access to this programme and so cannot check whether our Surrey Puma is referenced. 

Apart from the question as to the current whereabouts of the creatures, the other question is where did they come from? One possibility is they are the descendants of pets turfed out to fend for themselves when the Dangerous Wild Animals Act of  1976 came into force. 

Before that you could, should you so wish, walk into Harrods and buy a puma – or a Pekingese. I remember the lion which used to be taken for walks through Woking’s streets not so long ago. The 1981 Zoos Act brought in to deal with poorly-kept wildlife parks and zoos may well have resulted in even more large cats let go.

Just because we have never seen the Surrey Puma does not mean it does not exist. Environmental consultant Rick Minter, author of Big Cats: Facing Britain’s Wild Predators points out (DT, August 24) “there are an estimated 3,000 pumas in Colorado, but most people never see one. These are elusive animals. It’s very rare to get clear footage.” 

After all, if you look at the end of Sir David Attenborough’s wildlife programmes, you will be shown the difficulties the cameramen had in obtaining their pictures, sometimes having to hide out for days on end.

However unlikely a good photograph of the Surrey Puma may seem, it is surely more likely than good representation of Nessie.