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Big cat attack?
Cow killed, another injured near the Bryan County line
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    Something killed a cow and injured another Saturday night near Olive Branch Road in Bryan County, and Bryan County Animal Control Officer Valerie Barnard said her coworker — and a Department of Natural Resources ranger who went along with him — said the attack was from “a big cat.”
    But Ranger Randy Tinley, of the Brunswick DNR office, said no one from his office has “confirmed ... or denied” the attack was the work of a large feline.
    Neither the Bryan County Animal Control officer nor the DNR ranger who actually responded to the call were available for comment Wednesday, and neither returned calls. However, Barnard said she spoke for Bryan County Animal Control officer Thomas Sanders, who responded to a call from an elderly man on Olive Branch Road who reported one cow dead and another seriously injured in an attack that took place sometime late Saturday, she said.
    And Tinley said he spoke for DNR Ranger Philip Scott, who went along with Sanders to investigate the incident. Both Sanders and Scott were off duty Wednesday and not expected to return to work until later in  the week.
    Barnard said Sanders told her about the call, and said he confirmed it “ was a big cat.”
    She said Scott and Sanders examined the cattle, as well as photographs the owner took of the extensive injuries, and “looked at evidence ... we pretty much felt it was a big cat due to the nature of the wounds.”
    But Tinley said he spoke to Scott Wednesday, who told him there were no tracks around the area, and that “ he did not confirm it was a ... panther. He did not deny it was a panther.”
    Wildlife biologist Steve Kyle, who does work for the DNR, is slated to examine the photos of the cows’ injuries next week in an attempt to determine what animal savagely attacked the cows, he said. “It’s an ongoing investigation.”
    But Barnard was adamant about Sanders telling her DNR officials determined the attack was caused by a large cat - a cougar or panther.
    She spoke with Thomas Wednesday, asking him again about the incident.
    He told her “ they looked at the cow, then at the pictures,” she said. “He said in their opinion it was a big cat, but they were sending the pictures to (Kyle) to get a higher opinion or what have you. Thomas called me and told me it was confirmed it was a big cat.”
     Tinley said the absence of any tracks - canine or feline - in the area made it difficult to determine what animal may have killed and injured the cows.
    One can tell a feline paw print from a canine paw print easily - a cat does not leave claw marks, as their claws are retracted. Dogs leave claw marks with paw prints, he said.
    He said the land owner has a few cattle and owns about 100 acres of property along Black Creek.
Panthers: myth or reality?
    Barnard said there are panthers in the area. “They are around, but you just don’t see them much.”
    Internet searches - and documented interviews- show numerous reports of panther sightings - both the alleged black panther and the recognized tawny panther with black and white markings - across Georgia and other states in the Southeast.
    Tinley said there is no confirmed “living, breathing population of panthers in Georgia” but said panthers do roam, citing two Florida panthers with tracking collars that wandered a good distance into Georgia in the mid-90’s before being captured and relocated back to Florida.
    “They are roamers,” Barnard said. “More  than likely he (the panther she believes killed and injured the cattle on Olive Branch Road) is not in the area anymore.”
    She said her office has been receiving numerous calls from concerned citizens in the area who have learned of the attacks and are worried about the presence of big cats in the area.
    “We tell them it’s out of our hands now,” she said. “ We don’t  have the means to trap ( large animals) and DNR is handling it.”
    But according to Tinley, there is nothing to handle, although he said Scott does not “ confirm ... or deny” the attack was caused by a large cat, and said the case remains under investigation.
    He acknowledged reports of people claiming  to see large cats, including black panthers, of which there is no scientific evidence of existence. What people call a black panther “ is a black jaguar,” which is not native to the country, he said.
    Tinley said people may mistake a black coyote for what they  think is a black panther.
    But as no animal was seen, even if a “big cat” is  responsible for the attack, there is no way to determine its color, Barnard pointed out.
    There is a population of panthers in Florida, and they do roam, sometimes covering long distances, according to Internet Web site
    “The Florida Panther is a subspecies of cougar that has
 adapted to the subtropical environment of Florida,” according to the site. “Only 80 to 100 panthers still remain in Florida, making this one of the most rare and endangered mammals in the world.”
     Adult males may range over an area of 200 square miles. Panthers can travel 15-20 miles a day, according to the web site.
    Another feral cat has a presence in Florida as well.
    “While Jaguarundis are not native  to the south-eastern United States, it is believed that a feral population  exists in Florida, established from an introduced population of escaped  pets in the 1940’s,” according to web site information.
    Jaguarundis, smaller than the panther, occur in a variety of solid colors, including dark gray or black.

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