The lynx effect? Tees 'hunters' keep track of myth v reality.
THE truth may be out there - but it's going to take more than a bowl of Kitekat to tease it out.
Because in the battle of brains versus the beast, Teesside's mysterious big cats currently have the upper paw.
Despite our area being among the best in Britain for sightings, experts still can't put their finger on exactly what Teessiders are seeing, while sceptics still argue there's nothing to put your finger on.
But six unexplained sightings were recorded by Cleveland Police between 2001 and 2004.
And in the last 10 years, 110 official reports have been logged on Teesside and within a stone's throw of the region.
For a man who has spent half his life tracking big cats, Mark Fraser, seems surprisingly level-headed when it comes to totting up the evidence.
"Teesside's been one of the most consistent places in Britain for large black cats," said the dad-of-three who ran Big Cats In Britain's annual conference at the Marton Hotel in Middlesbrough.
"The question is where are they? The question of whether we have them is gone now.
"Ninety-nine per cent of the prints we get are dogs. But if you get one print out there that's a large cat, it means there's a large cat out there.
Our main task is getting to the bottom of what witnesses see. We've got to go where the evidence leads us."
Mark, 45, has used motion sensitive cameras and stakeouts during his surveillance, often being called into big cat hotspots following sightings.
"It took me 15 years before I saw one. I had a camera round my neck - and I never took a picture. I was that gob-smacked," he remembered.
"I ran past it in the dark and it just sat yards away watching me. It was as large as an Alsatian but all the features akin to a domestic cat."
Ian Bond, a Teesside-based ecologist, who logs encounters of the furred kind for the Big Cat Diaries for Northumbria Mammal Group, said: "My big question is how many are there? Are there enough for a breeding population or is it just the odd animal?
"I'm sure they're just animals that have been released. I think if they were well-established, we'd be seeing more of them. But one cat can give an awful lot of sightings.
"There are three main areas in the North-east at the moment. There's Tynedale. There's what I call the Trimdon Panther around West Hartlepool. There have been several sightings there recently - just this year.
And the other area is the North Yorkshire Moors.
"We're obviously dealing with more than one cat in the North-east. I think we're dealing with at least three but it could be more."
Local researcher Chris Hall subscribes to a different school of thought.
"There's no doubt in my mind that these exist. But the only question is what are the large black animals? My own theory is they're an indigenous, undiscovered species."
So while discovering the truth can be rewarding, not knowing can be even more interesting.
SIGHTINGS: Some of the reports held by Cleveland police since 2001; Our main task is getting to the bottom of what witnesses see. We've got to go where the evidence leads us. It took me 15 years before I saw one. I had a camera round my neck - and I never took a picture. I was that gob-smacked - big cat conference organiser Mark Fraser, left Picture by PETER REIMANN; CONFERENCE: Ecologist Ian Bond, left, and pictures of two reported sightings in the UK, above