Posted by: Loren Coleman on November 6th, 2008
On November 3, 2008, police and animal rescue squads were combing the countryside around the southern Italian city of Benevento, in the latest in a 15-year-long string of panther alerts in Italy.
The teams moved in after a hunter said he saw ”a big cat, perhaps a panther” prowling near the town. Vets found prints and tracks they said were consistent with those of a large feline.
Forestry guards are beating the undergrowth to keep the animal in a wood where it is thought to have taken refuge, local authorities said.
Helicopters have been called in to help the hunt, they said.
The alert is Italy’s first panther spotting in two years and the eighth in 15 years. Many of the subsequent hunts have turned out to be fruitless. The last case was in April 2006 when a big game hunt was launched around the northern Italian city of Piacenza after repeated sightings
of a supposed panther. A few years before in the same area, hunters and farmers reported seeing a puma.
A similar scare hit the outskirts of Rome in February 2006 after six goats were found dead. Locals calmed down when experts said the tooth marks on the goats were those of a big dog.
In December 2005, Turin (home of the famed Shroud) was shaken by panther fears after a series of sightings sparked rumours that a visiting Moscow zoo might have lost one of its biggest draws. The zoo squashed the reports, saying it had no panthers but only dogs, camels and horses. But the reports revived memories of a wild cat chase near Turin six years previously. That 1999 report spurred copycat incidents as feline fever spread to the provincial border with Como.
Most of the other reports of predators on the loose have come amid midsummer news droughts known to journalistic insiders as ”the silly season.”
Panthers were reported to have been sighted in the harsh landscape of central Sardinia in 2001 and the rolling countryside of central Umbria in 1993 and 1995. After the second Umbria sighting locals said they had also seen a lion roaming in the vicinity.
Thanks to Paul Cropper for the heads up on this report.