What was it?

2nd Cowetan reports seeing large cat-like animal

by Wes Mayer

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Picture of a Florida panther courtesy of Larry W. Richardson with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 


It is still unclear what type of animal is responsible for attacking a Coweta County woman’s pet dog Tuesday morning while they were on their daily morning walk.

Around 6:30 a.m., Josephine Young and her almost 8-year-old pet Miniature-Pinscher, Max, were walking on a trail in the woods near her home when Max ran ahead of her. Young said she told Max to stop, and that was when an unidentified animal made a few shrill screams from the thick brush. The animal then attacked and, at first, lunged at Max’s hips. Max managed to get away and started running toward Young, but the wild animal leapt on top of Max, grabbed him and carried him into the woods.

Young and her husband could not find any signs of Max, and they think the animal may have taken him up a tree. They found one trunk missing some bark, and there were several large footprints in the area, but no other evidence.

Young described the animal as a large and shiny black cat with a long tail, and she is certain it was not a coyote. She said the animal was not tall like a coyote, just less than two feet, but it was around five or six feet in length including the tail.

After seeing the news report Wednesday, another Times-Herald reader reported seeing a similar animal recently in the area of Boy Scout Road.

So what was it?

According to Jim Ozier, program manager of the Nongame Conservation Section of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, authorities do know there were native wild cougars that lived in Georgia 200 years ago. They were all believed to be brown, though, and officials are convinced these cougars disappeared long ago. He said there are no known wild brown or black panthers roaming the state.

“I never tell anyone they didn’t see what they saw,” Ozier said, “because nothing is absolutely impossible. There are often many other explanations and more practical ones.”

On its website, the Department of Natural Resources lists all the wildlife that can be found in Georgia, and in its list of mammals is the Florida panther. The Florida panther is a species of puma, not actually a “panther,” and it has been on the endangered species list since 1973.

Although it once lived throughout the Southeast and as far west as Arkansas, the Florida panther’s territory has been reduced to the southern tip of Florida. Now only 160 are thought to live in the wild, according to the Florida Wildlife Federation, a Florida non-profit organization.

The only other large cat with a presence in the U.S. is the American mountain lion, also a puma, which lives west of Texas.

Ozier said the department often gets reports of cougar or panther sightings in Georgia, but there is rarely evidence to support them. In most cases, the animal turns out to be a large house cat. In a report Ozier wrote in 2010, between 1978 and 1990, the department received 492 reports of panther sightings in Georgia. The department responded to 410 of these, but no conclusive evidence of panthers was ever found.

The curious exception, Ozier said, was in 2008, when a Florida panther was shot and killed in Troup County. After the animal was killed it was positively identified as a Florida panther, and although there was no proof, Ozier thought there were indications the panther was previously kept in captivity.

Ozier said Florida panthers have been known to travel north into middle Florida, so it is possible for them to continue traveling to Georgia. But even if one made it to Georgia, Florida panthers, like all the others which ever lived in Georgia, are brown.

“In every cougar, there is just not a black phase,” Ozier said. “You only see black phases in jaguars, which are in South America, or in leopards in Africa.”

In fact, there is no such animal as a black panther – the animal people picture when they think of a black panther is either a melanistic jaguar or a leopard. Melanism is defined by Merriam-Webster as “an increased amount of black or nearly black pigmentation (as of skin, feathers, or hair) of an individual or kind of organism.” Essentially, melanism is the opposite of albinism. Melanism causes the animal’s fur to turn black or nearly black, and in many cases, a black jaguar’s or leopard’s spots can still be seen in the sunlight.

The word panther is believed to have derived from the animals’ genus’ scientific name, “Panthera.” The jaguar’s scientific name is Panthera onca, and the leopard’s is Panthera pardus. The lion is also a panther and is named Panthera leo.

Cougars, however, are from the Puma genus and are a subspecies of Puma concolor. The Florida panther’s scientific name is Puma concolor coryi, and the American mountain lion’s name is Puma concolor couguar.

Whatever animal it is, Young is worried it may be a danger to small children or other small pets in the area, and she hopes it does not attack anyone else.



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