POLICE chiefs have issued a warning for members of the public to beware of big cats after a suspected puma attack on a horse.
The horse's owner found it badly injured with claw and slash marks on its hind quarters in a field near Sundrum Holiday Park in Ayrshire on Friday.
A vet who treated the horse concluded that the injuries appeared to have been by a wild animal rather than a human.
Specialists who analysed pictures of the injuries said they were probably made by a big cat, possibly a puma.
The horse is said to be making a good recovery. The attack at the holiday park, at Coylton, comes two months after a suspected large cat was seen prowling at nearby Sundrum Castle.
A member of staff spotted a sandy-coloured beast, described as being about 4ft tall and 6ft long, at about 9am one day in May. Experts believe it may have been a puma.
Superintendent John Hazlett, of Strathclyde Police, yesterday urged local residents to report any further sightings to the force.
He said: "At this time, after consultation with experts, the evidence points to a big cat, possibly a puma, having caused the injuries to the horse.
"There was a possible sighting of a large cat in the grounds of Sundrum Castle back in May. Experts believe that this may have been a puma sighting, although this has never been confirmed, and as far as we are aware, there haven't been any sightings since. From what we have been told by experts, it is unlikely that a puma would approach and present any danger to humans and would make every attempt to avoid them. However, the obvious advice to members of the public is not to approach this animal, but report any sightings to the police."
Mr Hazlett added: "I would urge anyone who sees a large cat in the area to contact us as a matter of urgency, and I would also ask local farmers to take extra caution with their animals and to contact police if any of them are injured."
There have been hundreds of big cat sightings in Scotland over the years with claims of panthers, leopards, pumas and lynx all having been seen.
Between 2000 and 2006, more than 200 reports were made to Scottish police forces.
The campaign group Big Cats in Britain says it registers an average of three sightings a week in Scotland and believes there are up to 40 big cats roaming wild.