DNA tests commissioned by the National Trust to find once and for all if there is a big cat on the prowl in Gloucestershire have confirmed it is a fox.
The tests on saliva found on two deer carcasses were carried out by the University of Warwick and followed closely by conspiracy theorists around the country, who insist that big cats have been breeding in the wild since the 1970s when they were released from private zoos.
However the extensive tests found that both carcasses, found near Woodchester Park, hadbeen eaten by a fox, or possibly a dog.
The roe deer, which showed puncture parks on the neck, could have even been brought down by a large fox, prompting questions about the nature of the new canine ‘beast of Woodchester’.
Dr Robin Allaby, Associate Professor at the School of Life Sciences, took 45 samples in total from the wounds of the deer carcasses and carried out hundreds of tests. “We did not detect cat DNA on either deer carcass,” he said. “Other than deer, by far the strongest genetic signal we found... was from a fox."
John Bryant, an expert on foxes, said even a large fox could not have brought down a fully grown deer. He said it was much more likely both deer were killed or injured by dogs and then the meat scavenged by foxes.
David Armstrong, Head Ranger for the National Trust in Gloucestershire, said people were never scared of the big cat and many remained convinced that there is an “interesting” creature in the wood,.
“The story of the investigation of the dead deer has really sparked off local curiosity with a lot of people coming out to Woodchester Park to explore. People love a mystery like this and although we haven’t found a wild cat, many of our visitors clearly believe there might be something interesting living quietly hidden in Woodchester.”
Rick Minter, author of a new book on big cats reported in Britain, insisted there is still plenty of evidence of big cats through sightings, photographs and even video and the hunt is not over yet.
"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."