For years, the rumours of big cats roaming Dartmoor and savaging livestock have been dismissed as sheer fantasy, no more credible than claims of the existence of the Loch Ness monster.
But the doubters may have – dare one say it – paws for thought.
For the claims that Big Cats are roaming free may actually be true, with the mystery of how they got to Dartmoor and nearby Exmoor and Bodmin Moor solved at last.
It is now claimed that three pumas were released onto the wilds of Dartmoor by Mary Chipperfield, the famous circus owner, after her zoo in Plymouth was forced to shut down in 1978.
The large cats were being driven to their new home at the moor’s wildlife park by Ms Chipperfield – but that only two out of a consignment of five pumas ever arrived.
It is thought Ms Chipperfield released her favourite breeding pair and another male into the wild rather than see them go into a new home.
The claim has surfaced in the wake of the disappearance from Dartmoor Zoo of Flaviu, a rare lynx, which escaped its enclosure earlier this month.
Benjamin Mee, owner of the zoo, said yesterday that while Flaviu’s escape was somewhat unfortunate, his disappearance is far from a first.