THE HUNT for a large wild cat thought to be prowling the Yorkshire Dales has been bolstered following a discovery by an East Lancashire walker.

Ongoing speculation that a fearsome feline, possibly a cougar or puma, is stalking the picturesque landscape has been strengthened after pictures of a creature’s tracks were taken by keen rambler Julie Penrose, 60.

The Colne walker was trekking through Pen-y-Ghent, near Ribblesdale, when she came across the mystery prints in the snow.

She said: “As soon as we saw them we thought they belonged to a big cat. They are quite heavy footprints, presumably from a large animal and it had pushed the snow down.

“The prints also seemed to be rather fresh and were staggered along the hillside.”

Mrs Penrose said the prints seemed to be in sets of two, rather than four, and suggested it could be from a fast-moving animal.

She said: “We went across the top of the mountain and then cut down the side, walking through heather, and found the prints.

“I have never seen any before but they were big and definitely weren’t a dog. We were thankful we didn’t meet the animal!”

Danny Bamping, from the British Big Cat Society, said: “The prints are definitely from a large cat. They are distinctive as there are no claw marks and they are really good, clear prints.

“We have had a lot of sightings in the Yorkshire Dales and Moors area in the last month or so and it is important people tell us, as sightings are usually few and far between.”

Mr Bamping believes that the prints could come from a cougar or puma-style cat.

He said the society knew of people releasing large, exotic cats into the wild in the late 1970s, early 1980s, which could explain increased sightings.

There have been several sightings of wild cats in East Lancashire.

The ‘Padiham Panther’ was reported around the area in the mid 1990s and in 2007. In Rossendale, there were numerous sightings last year of a beast resembling a black puma, with farmers evening claiming it had killed their animals.

In Hoddlesden a pale brown creature with a white, spotted face and a dark ringed tail was spotted a couple of years ago.