Rob Pavey blogs green issues and the outdoors life

Mystery cat photographed: Panther or bobcat? Or something else?

This interesting cat was photographed in Screven County recently by a hunter's trail camera. Can you identify the species?
This interesting cat was photographed in Screven County recently by a hunter's trail camera. Can you identify the species?

Georgia wildlife officials say we don't have panthers - and people who claim to have seen one continue to insist otherwise.

It's a perennial stalemate that has lingered for decades, with dozens of sightings reported annually across Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

Without evidence, however, the reports are routinely dismissed as mistaken identity linked to hound dogs, bobcats, large feral cats or small deer.

The lone exception was a 140-pound panther killed during a black powder hunt in 2008 near West Point Lake in Troup County. Genetic tests confirmed it was not - as biologists first said - an escaped pet.

It was a Florida panther and a member of the last subspecies of cougar still surviving in the eastern U.S., with fewer than 120 animals.

Almost two years later, authorities still have no explanation of how the cat ended up in Georgia - 600 miles from its known habitat.

Such mysteries bring up the obvious question of whether there could be other panthers - or something other than panthers that could explain the persistent sightings.

The most recent ones I'm aware of occurred just this past month.

One was a woman's call to Columbia County authorities claiming to have seen a panther at the New Hope Baptist Church Cemetery in the Campania community.

The other was this actual photo - taken by a hunter's trail camera - in Screven County.

The image, snapped about an hour before daylight, shows a dark cat meandering through swamp grass. Its tail is not visible, but it has an unmistakable flat, feline face.

Could it be a panther? Perhaps not. It doesn't appear large enough to be a mature cat from a species that routinely grows to be more than seven feet long.

Other opinions are that it could be a bobcat in low light, or perhaps a mature feral cat that has somehow interbred with bobcats.

The seemingly pointed ears on the cat in the photo might lend credence to that argument, since panthers have more rounded ears. But the angle of the photo could also have made rounded ears seem more pointed.

One common denominator among many reported "panther" sightings is a description of a cat much smaller than a typical panther, leading some theorists to surmise the creatures could be jaguarundi, a panther-like wildcat native to Mexico and Central America that has been found in Texas and Florida.

The jaguarundi is known to inhabit swamps and remote river basins and is so elusive that relatively little is known about the species. It is also commonly found with dark brown or black fur, which could help explain the large percentage of sightings in which the cat was a "black" panther.

Wildlife biologists continue to say it is unlikely that panthers, jaguarundis or other such predators are living in our midst undetected. And people who have seen them will continue to disagree.
 

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The Shadow
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The Shadow 09/28/10 - 05:05 pm
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A Bobcat maybe?

A Bobcat maybe?

Rob Pavey
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Rob Pavey 09/28/10 - 05:07 pm
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Shadow.... that's my best

Shadow.... that's my best guess, too. Perhaps his spots don't show up in the low light. If it's a bobcat, though, it's a healthy one.

The Shadow
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The Shadow 09/28/10 - 05:23 pm
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Have you ever seen a healthy

Have you ever seen a healthy cat of any type? They can get pretty hefty ;-)

PUPPYMOMMA
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PUPPYMOMMA 09/28/10 - 05:26 pm
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I don't know what it is but

I don't know what it is but it looks like it could eat more than Meow Mix. Thanks for the heads up about the Campania community. So far this year I've only seen deer and snakes,wouldn't want to run into "Fluffy" while walking in the woods.

AGR354
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AGR354 09/28/10 - 05:42 pm
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Panthers can have a range of

Panthers can have a range of over 300 square miles, they have been seen in South Carolina in the swamps for years. One was reported years back in Trenton.

As soon as the young panthers get old enough to move on they do and when in Florida you go North, so as populations in crease in Florida look for their young to come North.

Rob Pavey
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Rob Pavey 09/28/10 - 06:04 pm
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Shadow, you again make a good

Shadow, you again make a good point. Even domestic cats can get huge. Growing up, my neighbor's cat started out tiny. Her name was "Tinker Bell" and we called her "Tinker." A few years later she had gotten so big we called her something else: "Tanker."

FallingLeaves
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FallingLeaves 09/28/10 - 06:50 pm
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Doesn't look like a bobcat,

Doesn't look like a bobcat, doesn't have the fluffy white ring of fur around the lower part of the face or the distinctive pattern to the fur and the face looks proportionately too long.

FallingLeaves
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FallingLeaves 09/28/10 - 06:53 pm
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It does look like some photos

It does look like some photos of a jaguarundi. Maybe the mild winters are allowing them to migrate comfortably north to this area.

leilani_1925
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leilani_1925 09/28/10 - 07:29 pm
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why hasnt any one tried to

why hasnt any one tried to suggest that it is a cougar/mt.lion? thats exactly what it looks like and it is a species that was once found over most of america

gdweiss
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gdweiss 09/28/10 - 08:34 pm
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Interesting piece - a very

Interesting piece - a very crediable co-worker and former sheriff's dept. lieutenant shared a similiar sighting he had in Columbia County several months ago. He described a large, dog-sized feline with a long, ground-length tail curved at the end that crossed the road ahead of his vehicle. I had forgotten his story until I saw this article.

Rob Pavey
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Rob Pavey 09/28/10 - 08:43 pm
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the 'official' sources say

the 'official' sources say there would be more evidence if we actually had a sustainable big cat population. as remote as the everglades region is, the few florida panthers that still live there are seen fairly often, and they are regularly killed on the highway. I keep getting told that - if they were here - somebody would have run over one by now..

Jspence3
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Jspence3 09/28/10 - 10:35 pm
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Mountain Lion... go google a

Mountain Lion... go google a pic of a mountain lion and compare it to this one... pay close attention to the facial features!

only4years
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only4years 09/28/10 - 11:04 pm
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Many of my family members, on

Many of my family members, on rare occasions, have seen large black cats in the Northeast GA. area for years. Local game officials just tell people they have seen a large dog or something to the effect.

http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=220985

http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=221014

http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=221024

Rob Pavey
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Rob Pavey 09/28/10 - 11:12 pm
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Jspence, it does have panther

Jspence, it does have panther facial characteristics - but based on the height of the swamp grass, this cat is larger than a housecat, but well shy of a panther. The angle of the camera was set intentionally to catch a big buck head-on, and it's looking down on the cat, which I am guessing is about the size of a coyote.

etlinks
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etlinks 09/29/10 - 07:47 am
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Bobcat. Saw a few on SRS.

Bobcat. Saw a few on SRS. What I don't understand is why kill a Black Panther cat on a black powder hunt,can't eat it.

Rob Pavey
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Rob Pavey 09/29/10 - 08:13 am
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panthers don't have a 'black'

panthers don't have a 'black' phase, despite rumors to the contrary. the south american jaguar can be black, but not panthers. I think the fellow who shot the Troup County panther was wrong to pull the trigger - they are federally protected but apparently the US Fish & Wildlife Service opted not to prosecute him, which sends a bad message to anyone else who happens to encounter one in the Georgia woods.

REDRIDER
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REDRIDER 09/29/10 - 01:38 pm
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I have seen a large cat while

I have seen a large cat while hunting in Bamberg County, SC by the Salkehatchie River Swamp Near Rivers Bridge State Park. Others I hunt with have seen the large cat with a long tail. No way a bobcat, lynx , or feral cat. To big, about four foot long body and the top of the head was was about 30" high. Tracks were big as a mans fist in the sand were it crossed a dirt road I was hunting on.

knighttime
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knighttime 09/29/10 - 03:59 pm
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if you look closely you can

if you look closely you can see its short spotted tail.. this is a bobcat. i do believe there are panthers in the swamps of georgia...

Jspence3
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Jspence3 09/29/10 - 08:32 pm
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True Rob Pavey. Maybe we

True Rob Pavey. Maybe we could also take into consideration that it may be a young mountain lion. But who knows. Whatever it is, it is still bad news for all. I just don't want that thing in my yard!

Orlandu
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Orlandu 10/01/10 - 03:00 am
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I have to say, based on the

I have to say, based on the face she's (I'm guessing based on the size relative to the grass) a juvenile cougar. I don't see the bobbed tail or the distinct facial hair common to the bobcats which counts them out. Granted I may be wrong since we have only the one picture and no knowledge of the height of the grass or area the picture was taken in but I feel that I am correct. The thing that says cougar to me is the what look like darker "eyebrows" along the same bone ridge as a cougar. Like I said though, I could be wrong.

knighttime
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knighttime 10/02/10 - 02:28 pm
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rob, if you look closely you

rob, if you look closely you can see his spotted stubbie tail.. trail cams tend to blot out colors with there cheaper flash systems. typically making things grey. hunted that area my whole life and seen a many of bobcat.. that is a bobcat...

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Harriette 10/06/10 - 09:30 am
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Excellent photo op! Warren

Excellent photo op! Warren County has a large cat. This photo is not of a Bobcat. Our deer cam just this week captured a local Bobcat and the cat you have here looks nothing like the BC (no facial fluff). Numerous folks out here talk about the bigger cat sightings and most especially comment about the tail. Georgia and South Carolina have a greater amount wilderness than Florida, so for wildlife officials to make a statement that more would be hit on the highways is off the mark (in my opin.). Whether a Florida panther migrated north or Mtn. Lion migrated south/southeast - the species will acclimate to the region and they are very aloof as all wild cat species.

FallingLeaves
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FallingLeaves 10/13/10 - 09:10 pm
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The eyebrow ridges are going

The eyebrow ridges are going the wrong way for a cougar. They would be going the opposite way.

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