DOG-WALKER Fraser Downer could not believe his eyes when a ‘big cat’ padded in front of him as he exercised his pair of whippets.

Mr Downer, from Finstock, was out with his 13-week-old son on Stonesfield Common near Charlbury when he glimpsed a tail in the long grass.

He stopped and stared, then saw a jet black cat emerge from the undergrowth, “slinking slowly and purposefully”.

“I watched in almost disbelief trying to fathom out what it was but there is simply no domestic cat big enough to match,” he said.

Mr Downer scrambled to get his camera out but by the time he could take a shot the beast had ducked down into the grass, so all he could see was the top of its head.

Then it disappeared.

Mr Downer said he saw the ‘big cat’ just after 7pm on Sunday, August 16.

He said: “It’s not a tiger or lion, obviously, but I would liken it to Labrador or German shepherd size or whatever that equates to in feline terms.

“I’ve heard stories from my village about black cats seen while deer stalking but it wasn’t until I told my fiancée and we read an Oxford Mail article online that I decided to call in, for sight recording purposes really.”

Oxford resident Steve Archibald, who runs the website, said it was a “classic big cat sighting for Oxfordshire”.

He said: “They get seen all over West Oxfordshire, by police officers, gamekeepers, people who know what they are talking about.

“I’ve had a farmer in his tractor on the phone to me describing one.”

Mr Archibald, a volunteer for Oxfordshire lowland Search and Rescue (OXSAR), said there were definitely breeding populations of big cats in the UK, if not in Oxfordshire.

Theories behind how wild populations get established often include escapes from sanctuaries or intentional releases by exotic animal owners, he said.

In the past five years, Thames Valley Police has been called to a total of 10 big cat sightings around the county.

Callers generally report seeing a large black cat, like a panther or a puma, with locations ranging from Aston Rowant nature reserve near Thame to a neighbour’s garden somewhere in south Oxfordshire.

In terms of the police response to the calls, the force lists four cases of “no further police action”, four cases of “enquiry completed”, one case of “advice given” and in one instance they just said: “all in order”.