University of Warwick experts carrying out DNA tests on the carcass of a mutilated deer for evidence of a big cat on the loose have drawn a blank.
The only DNA found by extensive tests on remains of the roe deer, discovered by dog walkers on National Trust land near Stroud, Gloucestershire, last month, was that of a fox.
The National Trust asked the University of Warwick to test samples from the deer after examination of the animal raised the possibility that it could have been killed by a big cat, such as a panther or puma.
The injuries to the neck of the deer and the way the carcass had been consumed were thought to be highly indicative of big cat activity. But forensic tests found no evidence of cat DNA on the carcass discovered near Woodchester Park, or on the remains of a second deer found a few miles away.
Dr Robin Allaby, of the University of Warwick, said: “Other than deer, by far the strongest genetic signal we found on the Woodchester Park carcass was from a fox.
“That fox DNA was found on the ribs, legs and fur-plucking sites from the Woodchester deer carcass. On the second deer carcass, we found canid DNA. A more detailed analysis is under way to pin down the canid species but our expectation is that will also be fox DNA.”
Dr Allaby reached his conclusions after taking 45 samples from the wounds of the deer carcasses, testing them for DNA from the saliva of canids, such as dogs or foxes, or cats which had killed the deer or scavenged from it.
Although tests have turned up no evidence of big cats in Gloucestershire, it is unlikely that speculation about feral cats such as the sandy-grey puma or the black panther roaming the British countryside will disappear.
Rick Minter, author of a new book on big cat reports in Britain, said: “We should not be complacent about possible big cats in the UK, but considering these animals living secretly in our landscape can fire people’s imaginations and help us consider all of the wild nature around us.
“Our outdoors can still hold surprises maybe.”
The only native wild cat species in the UK is the Scottish wildcat, which looks similar to a domesticated tabby, but there have been calls to reintroduce the Eurasian lynx, thought to have disappeared from Britain around 1,000 years ago.