AN ESSEX farmer is allowing wildlife park bosses to set a cheetah loose on his land – in the hope it will see off rampaging rabbits.

The fleet-footed big cat, whose 70mph top speed makes it the fastest animal on the planet, has had a hunting session in the Maldon area, and more are planned.

Alan and Jonny Ames, from Eagle Heights wildlife park, in Kent, are friends with the farmer and signed up to the experiment, as they are keen to see if captive cheetahs can be taught to hunt for their own food.

So far, the two-year-old male cheetah, Boumani, who was raised by humans, has failed to catch any rabbits on the un-named farm.

The father-and-son team hope the experiment will pave the way for releasing hand-reared cheetahs back into the wild.

Alan Ames has declined to reveal where the cheetah is being set free, as he fears it might cause trouble for the farmer.

However, he stressed there was little danger to the public, as the field in question was surrounded by a fence more than six feet tall.

Mr Ames is legally permitted to take Boumani hunting, as laws which ban the use of dogs to chase hares makes no mention of cats.

However, a spokesman for the League Against Cruel Sports condemned the exercise as “astonishing and barbaric”.