COULD there really be a panther on the prowl in Meltham?
Examiner readers have reported THREE sightings of a big black cat in the past week.
In the latest incident, a woman said she came face to face with a huge feline when she went into her garden at just before 6am yesterday.
She had been alerted by a noise in her yard.
The shocked resident saw the creature in a tree, swiping its paw at a nest trying to get at birds and young chicks.
When disturbed, the jet-black cat growled and looked directly at the woman before slinking into the morning half-light.
A team of police officers scoured the area looking for the beast, but were unsuccessful.
Wildlife groups capable of handling a panther were notified of the sighting.
Red Lane resident Andy Gallacher said he bumped into a pair of nervous policemen at 6.15am yesterday morning.
The lighting design manager said: "I was walking my dog and as I approached a side road two very flustered policemen appeared on foot.
"One of them saw my dog and jumped backwards. He seemed very nervous."
Mr Gallacher was told by the officers that he should put his dog on a lead and be careful.
He added: "They seemed as if they were taking it seriously."
Another Red Lane resident, who declined to be named, said: "This isn't the first incident like this.
"The farmers often talk of finding lambs ripped in half.
"They know there's something bigger than a fox out there doing these things."
Police confirmed they had been called to Meltham and had launched a search of the area.
Big cat hunter and expert Paul Westwood, of Pontefract, said the animals could attack if cornered. These are dangerous and powerful animals if they feel threatened.
"They will attack, but nine out of 10 times the public will be safe. My advice is not to look the cat in the face.
"They will see this as a challenge. The best advice is simply to stay still.
"And I would suggest there is more than one in the area because of the number of sightings. It is also possible these are the same cats spotted in Birchencliffe last year, because they do travel.
"If there is more than one, then it is possible they will be a family and there could be young. However, for the most part, they are solitary animals."
However, he said he was worried that it was only a matter of time before someone was attacked.
"They can easily drag a large deer up a tree or take down a cow," he said. "My worry is that they will attack a human before long."