You've heard about the Beast of Bevendean but what about the Portslade puma or the Lewes lion?

From Brighton to Burgess Hill and Hastings to Haywards Heath big cats – including a suspected lion – have been spotted across Sussex.

Over the past five years 27 reports of big cats have been made to Sussex Police, a Freedom of Information request by The Argus has revealed.

In the most recent cat-related call a woman walking with her son reported seeing an animal in undergrowth at Waterhall in Withdean, Brighton.

She called the police after seeing the animal last October and said: “We spotted something like a lion. But when I got home we checked on the internet and it was a ginger coloured puma. It was near the nature area and in the wood between there and the golf course.”

In Brighton in April 2008, a concerned member of the public reported twice seeing what he felt “sure was a puma”.

He told police they had seen the sandy coloured cat with white paws and a long tail on two occasions and added that they had seen it “in a field behind the house playing in the sunshine.”

Police patrols searched Nutley, near Uckfield, after a farmer reported two of his sheep had been killed in a “bizarre way”. He said he suspected a big cat had been involved because of the way their carcasses had been eaten. He also said another two of his sheep had vanished following the incident in February 2008.

Another two sheep were killed in Firle near Lewes in August 2006.

This caller reported: “There is a marksman in the area who kills foxes and he has volunteered to shoot the cat this weekend. The caller believes the cat is a black puma.”

A Sussex Police spokesman said: “All calls to police are assessed on their merits and followed up wherever appropriate. There is no pattern to this particular type of call, 26 in four years among up to a million of all types that we receive every year.

“If the call suggests that there may be some threat to people or other animals, police will seek to search the area.

“However in most cases it appears the callers are misidentifying smaller animals. In the remainder no trace is ever found, but there is no evidence to show that wild ‘big cats’ are at large in Sussex.”

Derek Bilston, from Sussex Big Cat Watch, said: “I do believe there are big cats in Sussex. There are two or three roaming around in Sussex but not many – no more than half a dozen.

“I would not think they are dangerous though.”

Big cat 'sightings in Sussex'

  • March 2007: Reported sighting of a “tigress” in Junction Road, Burgess Hill. It had a “brown, stripy face”.
  • June 2008: A blind person in Horsted Keynes, near Haywards Heath, “has very good hearing and was sitting in the garden and heard a cat which sounded quite large and it growled.”
  • May 2007: Cuckfield, near Haywards Heath, a member of the public is “really concerned” after seeing five dead deer – they believe it is big cats.
  • October 2006: A person who was sleeping in bed with their fouryear-old daughter was woken by a noise and saw “animal eyes staring at me”.