NORTH-coast crofters are being warned to be on the lookout for a "killer beast" which is rumoured to be prowling the fields of the Far North.
It comes after the carcase of a ewe was found stripped to the bone at Swordly, near Bettyhill, in north Sutherland.
Andy McLachlan (54), of Kirtomy, said a big cat has been spotted on the border between Caithness and north Sutherland on a number of occasions. He said the potential danger the animal presents was displayed last month when the sheep was killed.
The attack is thought to have taken place around Saturday, January 28, on livestock belonging to crofter George Mackay.
His son, Liam, was looking after the croft when he went to replenish the ring feeder. During the course of his duties he found the carcase of the sheep, which was left with nothing but its hide and skeleton.
Mr McLachlan said the carcase may have been around a week old, but claimed it would have taken a large animal, not native to the Far North, to kill the sheep.
"The carcase was lying right beside the ring feeder when it was found and nobody had seen it the week before," he told the Caithness Courier.
"The kill was far too clean to have been done by a fox as they would have ripped the fleece and pieces of skin would have been scattered when eating the sheep.
"But this was like the entire skin of the animal had been peeled back by whatever had consumed it. I have never seen anything like it in this part of the world and have warned crofters to keep a lookout."
Mr McLachlan claimed he first saw the big cat when he was lamping for foxes in the Swordly area in December. He said the animal is around the same size as a medium-sized dog but looks like a jet-black cat.
"I first saw the animal when I picked up a set of eyes and presumed it was an ordinary cat," he said.
"But when I started to use my squeaker, which simulates a rabbit’s scream and which I use to attract foxes, it started to come closer. I shone my lamp on it when it was around 125 to 150 yards away from where my vehicle was and, when I saw it properly, I realised it was a very big cat.
"It had to be around the size of a collie or a springer spaniel, but it was definitely a big cat. Once it caught my scent, it took about two leaps, which stretched 30 feet, and ran back into the woods."
He also claimed to have seen the cat last week, once again in the Swordly area, near the A836, but was unsure whether it was the same animal.
He is continuing to look for the creature as he said it could be very dangerous if a member of the public encountered it alone.
Northern Constabulary has not received any reports of big cat sightings, but is asking those who do spot it to contact Thurso Police Station on 01847 893222.