Moultrie Observer

Local News

August 4, 2010

Is a big cat stalking South Georgia?

CLYATTVILLE, Ga. — The veterinarian believed the marks on Larry Rodgers’ horse were too large for a bobcat. They didn’t match marks made by coyotes.

Larry Rodgers believes his horse Peppy was attacked by a big cat. He and his family have seen Florida panthers on their property just a couple of miles south of Clyattville, off Madison Highway.

“My first guess would be a Florida panther,” Rodgers says.

The attack on Rodgers’ horse comes at a time when several people have made claims of seeing everything from panthers to tigers and even a maned lion prowling the woods of South Georgia, primarily Echols and Lowndes counties.

The state Game Management Division claims no specific reports of lions or tigers. Still, late last spring, The Times received a few calls and e-mails regarding something large and possibly feline traipsing through the woods.

One claimed a full-grown lion had been spotted by a group of loggers near Naylor. Another report claimed a group of Moody airmen saw what was described as a cross between a bear, a coyote, a fox and a deer in Grand Bay. Rumors of a lion have circulated again in Echols recently.

Calls to officials regarding the possibility of a lion or a big cat on the prowl were greeted by skepticism. They may forget that South Georgia actually has a lion and tiger population.

Wild Adventures has habitats for lions and tigers. Since the apparent attack on Rodgers’ horse two weeks ago, a rumor has spread that a big cat has escaped the park.

Wild Adventures reported all of its lions and tigers present earlier this week. There has been no escape of a big cat from the park, according to Wild Adventures.

Living about five miles from Wild Adventures, Rodgers has heard the rumors regarding the park, but, based on what he’s seen in the past, he believes his horse was attacked by a Florida panther.

On Wednesday, July 21, Rodgers noticed a lump behind his horse Peppy’s jaw. He first believed the animal may have been kicked in the throat by another horse.

Upon further inspection, he discovered a pair of scratches about two and a half inches apart stretching into the horse’s mane. On the other side of Peppy’s throat, he discovered a puncture wound. The scratches and puncture wound appeared to be bite marks.

Rodgers assesses that the incident likely occurred Monday, July 19, or Tuesday, July 20.

Worried about rabies, Rodgers called a Thomasville veterinarian to see the horse a few days later. The veterinarian treated Peppy’s wounds and the horse is doing well, Rodgers reports.

Rodgers regularly has six horses in this particular pasture. Since the incident, one adult quarterhorse will not leave Peppy’s side. Rodgers has noticed a large scratch on the quarterhorse’s hindquarters. Nothing in the pasture explains how the quarterhorse could have received this scratch.

Since the incident, Rodgers and his family have become more vigilant while traveling on their property.

“We’re all kind of watching out for one another, but I don’t think a big cat would attack a person,” Rodgers says. “Still, we’re all pretty cautious.”

Florida panthers have been regular visitors to South Georgia through the years.

The Florida Panther Society tracked by radio monitor the movements of several panthers in South Georgia during the mid 1990s. The Society kept close tabs on these panthers, tracing them to various locations, even recording the cats’ kills, offspring and deaths in many cases, according to records available on the Internet.

In 1993, a panther had been tracked to Echols County, but it was killed by a hunter with a bow and arrow. The hunter was arrested and led authorities to the animal’s remains.

That same year, another panther spent two weeks near Valdosta in Grand Bay. She traveled north, was recaptured, and re-released in Florida. Also, a male hunted a wide territory around Valdosta before being captured and located to another area.

The Florida Panther Society reports are a litany of tragedies for the panthers, with their deaths including prey to hunters, dying in snares, being hit by vehicles along roadways, even a cub dying during an attempt to tag it with a radio monitor.

The society notes that a Florida panther has never reportedly attacked a human. On spotting a human, the panther will more than likely run away.

If someone encounters a Florida panther, the society suggests remaining calm. Do not unnecessarily allow children or pets near the panther. If the panther does not leave, show no fear. Make loud noises. Do not turn your back to the panther; instead, back away from it. And don’t forget to report the sighting to area officials.


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