A BIG cat enthusiast believed he had discovered the lair of a large panther ten years ago.

A cast of paw prints taken from the site prompted fears the meat-eater may have been living in Renfrewshire.

It was estimated by the size of its paws the carnivore was approximately four to five feet long.

John Dow, from the Scottish Big Cat Society, had been tracking the beast since reading about big cat sightings in the Gazette the year before.

He said back in 2004: “I believe I have found the cat’s lair. These paw prints definitely come from a big cat. I’m keeping the location a closely guarded secret.

“These animals usually stay away from humans but it will attack if threatened, especially if it has cubs, and we don’t want vigilantes going looking for it either.”

The 34-year-old from Lochwinnoch saw what he thought was a black leopard, also known as a panther, three times.

He added: “There was a skinned sheep with its fleece lying next to it and the carcasses of four mutilated lambs scattered about.

“It was 1.30am in the morning and I was wearing night vision goggles.

“When I approached the lair I heard this deafening screaming and howling like a banshee.

“When I put the torch on the howling stopped then when I turned the torch off it started again.”

There were a number of sightings near Howwood, Lochwinnoch and Kilmacolm. These included a jet-black cat measuring about four feet long near the Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park.