Ledger Inquirer

Ledger Inquirer: Readers say, yes, there are panthers here

Judging from the response to last week's column about an alleged Florida panther sighting on the Chattahoochee RiverWalk, we might have to change its name to the Catwalk.

But I'm told that name has been taken already.

I got a load of email and voicemail responses, all from people who have either seen such a beast in these parts or know someone who has, and not just on the RiverWalk. Sightings have been made in Harris County -- we even have a grainy picture of that one -- and in the Lindsey Creek area. Yikes!

Morgan Whatley of Midland, Ga., wrote to say a hunter friend sent her a warning email back in 2008 about a possible panther in Harris County. The friend also sent a picture from a motion-sensitive camera that appears to show a panther-like critter walking through a field.

Hal Midgette wrote to say that last week in the early afternoon he was riding his bike on the Fall Line Trace when an animal as large as a fox with a blunt feline face and long narrow tail, not bushy like a fox's, crossed the trail about 50 meters in front of him. (Hal's a science teacher, so forgive him for talking in metrics.)

Tara wrote to say she and her mother were riding last week on the RiverWalk near the Water Works building when a large cat ran up the riverbank, leapt across the path and into some dense woods. At first she thought it was a bobcat but then said it couldn't have been because it had a long tail.

"I'm a believer, based primarily on two personal experiences," wrote Ron Ussery.

Ron said his father-in-law was once chased back into his pickup truck by a large, aggressive cat with a long tail.

"His description fit to a 'T' a young panther still in spots," Ron said.

That was in the 1980s. Then in the '90s, Ron was driving on Interstate 185 near Smith Road when a large animal he first thought to be a dog ran across the highway. A closer look convinced him it was a large cat with a long tail.

"I will never forget its long tail circling broadly as it made that turn and angled off into the darkness," he said.

Tom Pate wrote to say a few years ago while running on the RiverWalk at dusk he saw a cat that looked exactly like the picture I published last week.

He was running along that low, heavily wooded area just north of the sewage treatment plant road (which has a much more colorful name among bicyclists).

"Since then I have been uneasy when running through that part of the RW," Tom wrote. "Believe me, I saw it clearly."

For the record, if you ever see me running on the RiverWalk, assume there's a panther after me, or a cop.

Others phoned in their responses.

A Mr. Taylor in Richland, Ga., wrote to say, "A lot of people have seen them and I have seen them twice."

An anonymous caller said, "Mark, I know there are black panthers around here. I know for a fact that there's one down in Barbour County. We saw it last summer. There's also a report of one up in Salem, where there used to be all that Meade property."

Uh, it's Mike. But thanks for calling.

Brenda called to say that she saw one about three years ago.

"It was crossing Lindsey Drive right there at Columbus State," she said.

Maybe that's why their mascot is a cougar.

Pat called from Phenix City to say she's seen one in her front yard, "right in front of my azalea bush."

OK, maybe there are panthers or cougars or some kind of big cats prowling the region. So let's remember the advice given to us last week by Jim Ozier, senior wildlife biologist with the state.

"It's certainly best not to approach it, but also not to run from it," Ozier said. "It's probably best not to look it directly in the eyes either. Just slowly back off and give it some room, and hope that it's not going to be too interested in a person.

"Try to get away quickly, but not in a panic."