A BIG cat is feared to be on the prowl in North Yorkshire after a sheep was savaged and killed.

North Yorkshire Police confirmed the evidence suggests a panther-like creature could be responsible for the attack near Ravensworth, Richmond.

All that was left of the sheep was its skeleton. Flesh had been stripped from the remains of the sheep and wildlife officers from the North Yorkshire force have been liaising with experts from the Big Cats Society.

PC John Wilbor, rural crime officer for North Yorkshire Police, said: “The evidence seems to fit with a possible big cat attack.”

The cat could be the same one spotted earlier in the year on Ilkley Moor. It is feared the animal may have roamed 40 miles north in search of food. Another sheep carcass was found at Whashton, near Kirby Hill, last week.

Mark Fraser, of Big Cats in Britain, believes the cat could be a black leopard, which can be more than seven feet long.

It is not the first time a “big cat” has thought to have roamed in North Yorkshire. There have been reports of big cats on the A1237 York outer ring road, near the A19 and A64.

In 1995, police in Malton even opened a file on the so-called Beast Of Ryedale, when a cream-colored puma-type animal was spotted. In May 2006, an image was captured by a dog-walker as he strolled in a field near the A19 at Osgodby showing a black panther-like creature.

A month later there were two sightings of big cat-like creatures near Tadcaster. A motorist called police after she saw an animal dash across the road in front of her car while another driver spotted a tiger-like beast.

In December 2008, a visitor to York was on her way back to Newcastle on a coach trip when she saw a beast on the A1M. She said it was pure black and had “bright, emerald green eyes”, and the base of its tail was seven or eight inches round.