Sightings of a “panther-like animal” and a mysterious set of tracks just a mile and a half from East Hampton have local police and state wildlife agents on the hunt for a possible big game cat on Long Island.
East Hampton Police were called to a farm on Spring Close Road around noon Sunday after a resident claimed to have spotted a large panther-like creature, according to Bill Fonda, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's Long Island office.
Described as a grayish, cat-like creature with a long striped tail, the mysterious animal was initially reported to be found eating compost and meat scraps at the farm. Soon after the five-foot long and two-foot high animal was spotted, the creature reportedly dove out of sight into the nearby brush.
Upon further investigation, the DEC officers lost the trail of the two-and-a-half-inch paw tracks, and were unable to find any other evidence of a large cat.
Conservation officers conducted a search of the property and surrounding woods and found a set of large paw prints measuring about two and a half inches. They eventually lost the trail, and were unable to find any other evidence of a large cat.
“Cats, even large cats, all have retractable claws,” said Fonda, so cats typically don't leave claw marks when they walk.
“The prints we found all left claw marks," he said. "It couldn’t have been a cat.”
Fonda added that he has not received any further reports of a big cat.
“More likely it was a fox,” he said, explaining that native grey foxes have experienced a population boom in the area. A fully grown three-foot long fox suffering from mange could certainly look like what the witness described.
Fonda asked anyone who spots any similar creatures in the area to call the local DEC headquarters at 631-444-0250 or the DEC Wildlife Office Hotline 631-444-0310.