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Experts are carrying out DNA tests on the carcass of a roe deer found at the National Trust's Woodchester Park, near Stroud, amid speculation that it could have been brought down by a big cat.

A local walker sent photographs of the carcass to experts last week after noticing particular features on the deer which could suggest it had been killed by a large predator.

The injuries to the neck of the deer and the way the carcass had been consumed are thought to be highly indicative of big cat activity.

Dr Robin Allaby, Associate Professor at the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick has visited the kill site to examine the evidence and take DNA samples from the wounds of the roe deer to be tested. Theses samples are now being tested with the results due by the end of the month.

Rick Minter, author of a new book on the mystery of the UK's feral big cats, said: "It is very helpful to have this forensic study of the deer carcass. The consistent feedback I receive from people about possible big cats is that the animals should be studied, so we can learn about the subject.

"Studying likely evidence such as this will help us become more informed. Local people who watched the carcass being examined appreciated that this was being studied in a responsible manner and that they are to be kept closely informed about the matter through their local newsletter and a forthcoming meeting."

David Armstrong, National Trust Head Ranger for the Gloucestershire Countryside said: "The deer was found close to Woodchester Park in an area where there is nice beech woodland sloping down to pastures below.

"With only one footpath, although it is popular with dog walkers, there is plenty of space for wildlife to live relatively undisturbed. There are 120 hectares of woodland nearby at Woodchester and both areas provide a good habitat for large numbers of deer, both roe and muntjac.

"There are some very occasional sightings of big cats in the Cotswolds but they have wide territories, so are rarely present in one particular spot for long. We'd be interested to hear of any more sightings at Woodchester."

Rick Minter continued: "Although people occasionally report a possible big cat from a distance, close up encounters with such cats are rare. Their hearing and movement are exceptional, which helps them avoid close contact with people. In the event of a close-up encounter you should stay calm and face towards the animal as you back off, but not threaten or aggravate it. The chances are it will have backed off very quickly first."

Any sightings or possible evidence on National Trust land can also be reported by email to nature@nationaltrust.org.uk.

For more information about the National Trust visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk

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