A big cat researcher claims to have solved the mystery of the “Palace Puma”.

Neil Arnold said a large wild cat spotted by a woman in a woods in Crystal Palace two weeks ago is in fact a black leopard or panther.

The author of Mystery Animals of the British Isles said decades of sightings across southeast London are a result of a number of large exotic cats being released into the wild by their owners in 1976, when it was deemed necessary to buy expensive licences to keep them.

Mr Arnold said sightings of big cats such as that by Helen Barrett in woodland at Fox Hill on Saturday, August 8, were of the offspring of these “pets”.

In last week’s Streatham Guardian Mrs Barrett described how she had seen a 5ft puma or panther on a pathway between Church Road and Auckland Road.

Police searched for the animal but could find no trace of it.

Mr Arnold said the animals “are no threat to humans”.

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