Friday, September 11, 2009

A Plano Panther?

I received an interesting email from a reader a couple of days ago. This gentleman claims to have spotted a large black cat off of highway 121 in Plano, Texas. The email, minus the reader's contact information, is printed below:

Last night I was walking my dogs (we walk around midnight where I live in Lewisville, TX) and they let me know that there was something else nearby. I looked along the creek bank that was maybe 30 feet away and clearly some some kind of feline, maybe the size of a coyote, furtively running back the way we had come. It was lighter in color, so I'm guessing a bobcat or something.

Anyway, it reminded me of an incident 2-3 weeks ago that happened when I was driving to work in Plano at around 9:00-9:15 in the morning. I had exited Hwy 121 and turned South onto Parkwood Blvd (East of the Dallas North Tollway - if you want to map it), and in the field to my left (now facing South), I saw a large, sleek charcoal-colored cat with a long tail running across the field toward the tree line that separates it from the field next to it. This thing was easily the size of a large dog (labrador, doberman, etc.), and while it was "galloping", it was covering significant ground without noticeable strain. I only saw it for maybe 10 seconds or so before I lost sight (I was going about 30mph Southbound).

I was looking around to see if I could find out what it might have been and came across your site. It looked a lot like the large black cat shown on this page:

Anyway, I don't have any evidence or anything more than what I've told you, but thought you might be interested all the same. Seems a bit of a populated area to be spotting something as elusive as a black panther, but then, for a couple of weeks we had a coyote couple hanging out in the field just SE of the intersection of Parkwood Blvd. and Tennyson Pkwy. in Plano (the field is a building now, but my office is on the 3rd floor facing it, so we had fun watching them in the tall grass before they cleared the field).

I checked the area of the sighting out via google maps and it certainly seems an unlikely spot for a big cat sighting of any kind. However, the area is a bit unique in that there are fairly large tracts of what appears to be farm land interspersed among the many building and roads. I am assuming the tracts of land are being used for agriculture as when I switched to the "satellite" view of the area the land appeared to have been recently plowed. This sort of situation is becoming more common in Texas as urban areas sprawl outward. Some long time farmers in my area, for example, are completely surrounded by strip malls or housing developments yet refuse to sell and continue working their land.

In any case, it has become clear that some predators have adapted better than others to living in close proximity to people. Coyotes are probably the most successful in this regard. Bobcats also seem to be making this adjustment. I have a theory that the larger cats have learned to do the same. Being solitary animals, large cats like cougars, jaguarundi, etc., could remain hidden fairly easily even in a somewhat urban setting. Creek beds, canals, drainage ditches, and riparian green belts could all serve as "highways" for these cats to move about. If they are moving primarily at dawn, dusk, or at night they are even more unlikely to be spotted. This is the hypothesis I am trying to verify with my current camera trapping project.

Recently, the show MonsterQuest did a show on feral dogs called, I believe, The Real Cujo. The show centered around a pack of wild feral dogs living in abandoned buildings in a rundown section of St. Louis, Missouri. It made me wonder if large cats might not be able to do the same in some urban areas. Again, just a theory but it could explain at least some sightings of big cats in areas where they should not be. Many would consider this hypothesis, at best, highly unlikely. However, people are seeing big cats and they have to be coming from somewhere, right?

My thanks to this reader for taking the time to contact me. I would be very interested in hearing from others who have seen big cats or other strange and/or unusual animals.

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