‘BIG cat’ sightings have been reported to Cumbria Police nearly 450 times over in the last three years, new figures confirm.

The reports are just one category among a host of weird and wonderful emergency calls which are regularly handled by the control room staff based at the Cumbrian force’s Carleton Hall HQ near Penrith.

Figures obtained exclusively list some of the stranger "emergency calls" that staff have had which often have little or nothing to do with crime.

Over the three years to January this year, force staff have taken:

* 448 calls about sightings of ‘big cats’ of various kinds.

* 25 calls about “ghosts, hauntings and poltergeists”.

* 27 reports of “aliens” or “strange lights”.

* 41 requests for directions.

* 5 Calls reporting that property has been lost.

* 117 calls about medical issues.

* And one person calling to ask for the time.

Police confirmed that the big cat calls include reports of animals identified as pumas, panthers, lions, tigers, wild-cats, cheetahs, leopards and lynx.

After some of the reports, the county’s wildlife police officer was informed.

Sharon Larkin-Snowden, 49, who runs a Big Cats in Cumbria Facebook page, said she was “shocked” by the high number of sightings. “I’d be interested to know if there are areas where the sightings are concentrated.

“I get a lot of sightings come into to me and I do some work with the police.

“But people often want to keep it confidential.”

Sharon, 49, spoke of a sighting of a big cat sighting in the Longtown area; and - more intriguingly - suggestions of up to four big felines living in the Thirlmere Valley area, where she says deer numbers have declined.

In April last year, Sharon published a photo of what she believes is a caracal, a medium-sized wild cat usually native to Africa the Middle East,and India. It was reportedly photographed in Cumbria.

Asked where such large felines may have come from if do live wild in the county, she replied: “Private collections. I think over the years, they’ve adapted to the British climate and we now have a breeding population.”

Among the other unusual calls fielded by Cumbria police are those relating to alleged "ghost” sightings.

In one call, a control room worker was told about “people dressed up as ghosts - or real ghosts” in their home.

Another caller asked for directions to the nearest filling station.

Police stress the 999 system is for emergencies only, defined as incidents involving a danger to life, violence, serious damage to property, a crime in progress, or a road traffic collision causing serious injury or disruption.