An experienced big cat expert has revealed the moment she finally got Panthera DNA evidence after 30 years of tracking sightings in the Cumbrian countryside.

Sharon Larkin-Snowden came upon a sheep carcass on Halloween of last year and saw what she described as a 'black leopard' lurking nearby moments later.

She took three swabs from the body which was found at a location in Cumbria and remains undisclosed due to fears the landowner will be swamped with visitors and to keep the animal safe.

READ MORE: Big cat DNA confirmed on sheep carcass

The samples were then passed to expert and producer of Big Cat Conversations podcast Rick Minter, who sent them to a specialist lab at the University of Warwick.

The university's School of Life Sciences centre offers a pioneering DNA analysis service utilised by many ecological consultancies, private individuals and wildlife enthusiasts.

Here the team, led by Professor Robin Allaby, performed tests with one swab indicated a panthera result, meaning it is from the genus of big cats, with two yielding fox DNA.

Cumberland & Westmorland Gazette: Sharon taking samples from the sheep carcassSpeaking at the time of the result, Professor Allaby said: "The DNA sequence is a short segment from the mitochondrion which is often used to distinguish different species of animal.

"The section we have sequenced is distinct to the group Panthera, which includes all the big cats  - lions, tigers, panthers, leopards.

"There was only a very small amount of DNA present, which again is not surprising. So we need more data from more samples to pin it down to a specific species."

Locals have long speculated as to whether the so-called 'Beast of Cumbria' is just one or several big cats that slink in the shadows of the countryside.

In regard to her discovery, Sharon said: "The investigation started off with locals and farmers saying they had seen a large black cat in this location so I thought I'd take a look.

"Over the last twelve months, I came across numerous sheep carcasses but most were well consumed. 

"On October 31, 2023 at around 9.30am, I took a drive up to the location and saw a 'neatly' eaten sheep - straight away I knew it had been eaten by a large cat.

"I jumped out of the car and over the fence, videoing just in case the cat was still about. I certainly felt very uncomfortable as the sheep was still fresh.

Cumberland & Westmorland Gazette: The sheep carcass which was found to have the DNA of a big cat"I took photos for future reference and quickly left the scene back to the car to return later with my husband for safety.

"As I drove up the lane away from the dead sheep around 300 yards up into the next field I saw to my right what I thought was a sheepdog. On a second glance I realised it was a black leopard.

"We locked eyes for a split second then it was gone over a stone wall and up the valley. It was a beautiful animal, healthy-looking, with what looked like a thick fur ready for winter.

"Around 5pm, I returned later with my daughter and husband to swab the sheep carcass. I took three swabs from different parts of the sheep.

Cumberland & Westmorland Gazette: Samples taken at the scene"I then took them home and put them in the fridge, obviously in a sterile bag .

"I then sent these to Warwick University the next day to obtain results.

"Two were fox and one panthera concluding my sighting.

"30 years of tracking these beautiful felines and finally I hit the jackpot. It makes this obsession worthwhile."