Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Plano Panther Revisited

I received an email from a reader last night shortly after posting the account of a possible black panther sighting in Plano, Texas. The emailer lives in the Plano/Frisco area and had some great thoughts on why a big cat in this, seemingly unlikely, area might not be so far fetched. The email, minus personal information, is below:

A big cat in the Frisco area may seem out of place when you google the location, but Frisco is one of the newest suburbs in the country. Just a few years ago it was a rural area, but it quickly began to grow. It grew so quickly thet Frisco was recognized as the fastest growing city in the country.

However, there is one area of Frisco that would still make a good habitat for big cats. The location is called Brinkman Ranch, which is a several hundred acre area of land that also served as the original set for the television series, Dallas until the house burned and the set was moved elsewhere. However, this land is still private and unsettled.

It would have been a likely location for any wild animals to flee to as residential neighborhoods sprung up all around the ranch. What throws a kink into this is the fact that a guy in a white truck patrols Brinkman Ranch every night, with a spotlight, and shoots at coyotes with a rifle. I have personally seen coyotes fleeing the ranch and heading into the suburban neighborhoods. So, with the only suitable habitat for coyotes and potential big cats being a kill zone, the animals have no choice but to move into the suburban areas which are a safer place to be, in this case, than the open fields and woodlands of the Brinkman Ranch. So it does not surprise me that a theoretical big cat would be seen in such a location as it was. The growth of the city from a rural area into a sprawling suburb has outpaced the average life expectancy of these animals. Therefore, there technically could be these types of animals that never made it out as the city grew around them. I've seen coyotes as far south as the north Dallas area along railroad tracks and running through neighborhoods at night.

I think this reader makes some valid points as to how big cats, as well as other species, might find themselves "locked in" and surrounded by suburban sprawl. I think this is clearly a contributing factor in sightings of big cats in urban areas. I do think there may be more to it, however. As I stated in the original post on this subject, I believe that big cats may be making the same adjustment that coyotes have made so successfully. Namely, they are learning to live in close proximity to people. For example, a report of a 60 plus pound black cat was received by police in Wheaton, Illinois on September 9. Wheaton is a suburb of Chicago, one of the largest and most heavily populated cities in the country. A woman jogging in Northside Park with her large dog allegedly spotted a large long-tailed cat that, other than its black color, resembled a cougar. The woman judged the size and weight of the animal by comparing it to her 60 pound dog. The woman said the cat was bigger than her dog but fled when said dog approached it. According to the report, Northside Park is largely surrounded by homes but does connect to a swampy area called Lincoln Marsh. This incident shares much in common with the sighting my reader reported of a black panther in the Plano, Texas area.

So, keep your eyes open and your cameras at the ready when out on those evening or early morning walks. You just never what you might come across or, as the case may be, what might come across you.

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