AN EXOTIC animal normally only found in the Americas has been found in the woods in Marlow by a group of amazed walkers.

The RSPCA have confirmed the creature is a coati, also known as a Brazilian aardvark, and officers believe it may have escaped from a zoo.

Sixteen members of Wycombe District Ramblers were taken aback on Saturday by the appearance of what they thought was a raccoon.

They contacted the RSPCA, which initially accepted it could be a raccoon - native to north America. 

While unusual, the organisation has had a handful of cases of rescuing raccoons in England and Wales in the past two years.

Yet, it has transpired to be an even rarer animal for this country.

To the surprise of Barbara Brooksbank and her pals, the animal not only appeared in plain sight but actually seemed tame.

As a result, Mrs Brooksbank, 76, retired, from Marlow, believed it could actually be somebody's pet.

After the sighting in Fennimore wood/Moor wood between Frieth Road and Marlow Road near Blueys farm, she told the Free Press: "It was so tame that it came down from the tall tree where it was watching us from and came quite close to us on the footpath before climbing the tree again."

She said: "It was not the least bit afraid which made me think it was someone's pet which has escaped.

"We've got no local zoo so this is the obvious conclusion. I just felt quite sad that perhaps someone had lost it."

A rambler tried taking a photo of the creature but the camera did not manage to capture it.

Mrs Brooksbank and fellow ramblers were convinced it was a raccoon but now after footage was sent to the RSPCA it has been confirmed as a coati.

She said: "I'm delighted I've seen but I feel sorry for the little ceatrure because I'm not sure it would survive."

RSPCA spokesman Jo Barr said: "It's possible that this animal was being kept in a zoo, a private collection or as a pet and has either escaped or been released.

"Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is an offence to release or allow to escape into the wild "any animal that is not ordinarily resident in and is not a regular visitor to Great Britain in a wild state.

"Coatis are not adapted to live in the temperate habitats of England and as a result may struggle to survive here in the wild, particularly during periods of sub zero temperatures.

"Coatis have strong front claws and will defend themselves if they feel threatened. If the animal is spotted our advice would be to monitor its location, confine it (if possible and safe to do so) e.g in a shed, and call the RSPCA."

London Zoo keeper Lucy Smith said: "The animal is a ring-tailed coati, a member of the raccoon family which comes from South America.

"Coatis are really intelligent, and very adaptable animals so they could quite easily forage for food in the wild – they’ll happily delve into bins if they can find something edible.

"If anyone spots it, they shouldn’t try to pick it up or feed it as it could frighten the coati - I’d recommend calling the local RSPCA branch."

Coati factfile:

- Coatis are native to South, Central and parts of North America.

- In the wild, they live in a variety of habitats, depending on species, but are commonly found in tropical forests.

- Coatis are omnivores, meaning they consume both plant and animal matter but primarily eat insects.

-While males tend to be solitary, female coatis are much more social and live in groups called 'bands'.

- These animals forage for food on the ground during the day and spend the night in trees.

- A Dangerous Wild Animals Act licence is not needed to keep a coati as a pet. The schedule of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 was revised at the end of 2007.

-A total of 33 species were removed from the list of animals that need licences including the coatis, raccoons, emus, sloths and squirrel monkeys.