Columbia County authorities searched a wooded area near Grovetown on Tuesday after a woman reported seeing a large black cat weighing about 100 pounds.
"If it is a 100-pound cat, it's not domestic," said county Emergency Services Director Pam Tucker. "Whatever it was moved pretty quickly, which always seems to be the case with animals."
The report came in around noon Tuesday from a woman on Chastain Drive who saw the large cat near the pond at the John Deere plant off Horizon South Parkway. Officers who responded found nothing.
Each year, wildlife authorities in Georgia and South Carolina get dozens of reported sightings of panthers, but they are rarely confirmed with any documentation, such as droppings, pawprints or a fresh kill.
Sightings of large, black cats are even more perplexing. Panthers, which live in the West and still have a small population in Florida, are not known to have a black phase. Jaguars, however, do have a black phase, but those creatures are native to South America.
Vic VanSant, a regional wildlife biologist for Georgia's Wildlife Resources Division, has said his office investigates calls each year from people who believe they have seen a panther.
There was an incident in 1995 when federal wildlife authorities experimented with the release of 10 transplanted Western panthers in northern Florida's vast wilderness. One traveled into Georgia and ended up in Burke County.
The panther then meandered south toward Statesboro before returning to Burke County, then followed the Brier Creek drainage into McDuffie County, where it lingered for a few days near Thomson.
Eventually, it made its way to the Clarks Hill Wildlife Management Area near Thurmond Lake, where biologists recaptured it in February of that year and returned it to Florida. During its travels in this part of the state, the panther never generated a single reported sighting, Mr. VanSant said.