DNA tests on dead deer in Gloucestershire show no trace of big cats.
Extensive tests on two carcasses found near Woodchester Park and Dursley have drawn a blank on a big cat but point to a fox instead.
"We did not detect cat DNA on either deer carcass," said Dr Robin Allaby of the University of Warwick, which was asked to conduct the tests by the National Trust.
"Other than deer, by far the strongest genetic signal we found on the Woodchester Park carcass was from a fox. That fox DNA was found on the ribs, legs and plucking sites from the Woodchester deer carcass."
Wounds on both deer led to speculation that it may have been killed by a big cat, and several sightings were subsequently reported in the area. National interest surrounded the tests, and the results were released under embargo to Woodchester residents last night (Wednesday) ahead of the official announcement at midnight.
Although analysis of the second carcass is not complete, Dr Allaby expects it to indicate fox DNA.
It was buried then exhumed so Dr Allaby and his team could try t extract DNA.
Rick Minter, author of a new book on big cats reported in Britain, said: "We should not be complacent about possible big cats in the UK, but considering these animals living secretly in our landscape can fire people's imaginations and help us consider all of the wild nature around us."
Gloucester big cat tracker Frank Tunbridge said the results did not mean big cats are not roaming the county."The deer had been out three days in bad weather, and foxes can come in after a big cat kill," he said.
David Bullock, the trust's national head of nature conservation said DNA would have remained on the carcasses despite the delay and the weather conditions however.
Last night Mr Minter and Mr Tunbridge led a meeting called by the parish magazine, the Woodchester Word, to discuss the deer carcass finds.
Paul Syrett, who made the discovery of the carcass at Boundary Court Farm near Woodchester Park on Wednesday, January 4, told the meeting it been moved twice afterwards in subsequent days, probably by another animal.
Dr Allaby took 45 samples in total on Friday, January 6, from the wounds of the deer to test specifically for DNA from the saliva of dog, fox, or cat species which had killed or scavenged from the deer. He carried out 450 amplifications of the target DNA.
His team searched for more than 30 different cat gene targets and only two of each of deer, dog and fox. County National Trust head ranger David Armstrong said: "The story of the investigation of the dead deer has really sparked off local curiosity with a lot of people coming out to Woodchester Park to explore.
"People love a mystery like this and although we haven't found a wild cat, many of our visitors clearly believe there might be something interesting living quietly hidden in Woodchester."
Of the more than 100 residents who attended the meeting, most were not afraid of an attack and felt that if a big cat is in the area, it should not be persecuted.