THE mysterious Beast of Riber – tracked by local police for several years – may have made another appearance.
A man who was walking in the area on Saturday April 8 found a mauled lamb and an unusual pawprint which he believes could have been made by a big cat.
Pat Williams, of Long Eaton, was walking through woods from Cromford to Riber with his wife when he came across the head and back legs of a lamb.
The rest of the animal's body was nowhere to be seen, and Pat also found a large print that he could not identify.
"What we found was the remains of a lamb that had been eaten so quickly that it was in mid chew – its mouth was still full of grass," said Pat.
"A hundred yards up the track we saw a print about four inches wide, six inches long and about one and a half inches deep.
"I have been walking around the Peaks since 1990 and I have never seen a print like this, and although you do see lambs attacked this one was a completely clean kill and again I have never seen anything like it before."
In 2001 there was a spate of "big cat" sightings around Matlock and a Dutch visitor to Riber was convinced she saw a panther on the slopes around the castle.
In 2002 hairs were found on a wall that a big cat had allegedly vaulted over – but DNA testing returned negative results.
Retired Matlock police wildlife officer Tony Umney is convinced the area is home to at least one big cat and used to keep a record of all sightings in a book at Matlock police station.
He said Mr Williams' findings are in keeping with previous evidence, which includes dead sheep, terrified ostriches and eye-witness encounters.
"One that sticks in my mind is when a chap came to us and said 'I'm not stupid and I'm not daft, but I'm telling you I've just seen a big cat on the High Peak Trail. There are kids playing up there and I'm worried they are going to get hurt'.
"As a police officer you get to know when people are telling lies and he wasn't."
Mr Umney added: "There have been too many coincidences for it not to be true and and at some point someone is going to see one. I have no doubt there's something up there."
Officially Britain's only native wildcat is the Scottish Wildcat but there have been many recent sightings of pumas, panthers, lions and lynxes, with famous cases including the Beast of Bodmin Moor.
It is thought non-native big cats could be living wild in Britain after being released after The Dangerous Wild Animals Act was introduced in 1976 compelling owners of exotic pets to license premises where such animals are kept.
Some pets, including big cats, were simply let loose by owners who couldn't afford the new licence.
Riber also used to be the venue of a zoo, so it has been suggested that "the beast" could be an escapee.
By Jim Taylor