Posted by: Loren Coleman on December 18th, 2008
Reports of slaughtered farm animals and shadowy figures in darkened yards have Puerto Rican authorities hunting for what they believe is an exotic jungle cat now prowling the wooded fringes of the island’s densely populated capital.
Wildlife officials patrolled streets and undeveloped lots in a sort of suburban safari on Sunday, searching for a nocturnal predator that has mauled a sheep, ripped apart chickens, and dominated newspaper headlines in this tropical U.S. territory since last week.
The beast, described by witnesses as a black panther, has dodged marksmen, motion-sensitive cameras, and cage-like traps — including one baited with a live goat, according to Natural Resources Secretary Javier Velez Arocho.
Ten sightings were reported of a 4-foot-long cat stalking a stretch of Rio Piedras, a San Juan suburb that is home to a 21,000-student university campus, Velez said. The elusive animal could weigh as much as 150 pounds, he added.
Search parties scoured the area without result, and Velez urged residents to keep an eye on their children and look to defend themselves if they encountered a big cat.
“We would use guns to kill this animal only as a last resort,” Velez said.
On Monday, December 15th, Commonwealth Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) authorities evaluated whether or not they should continue searching for the alleged panther or some kind of exotic cat that has been roaming around the Caimito sector in Río Piedras and was most recently seen in the Monte Hiedra complex in San Juan.
Authorities have been searching for the animal for the past week, but after no signs, or recent attacks to animals such as sheep, chickens and dogs occurred during the weekend, the DNER is contemplating giving up the search for the feline which they’re still not clear who it belongs to or where it came from.
“During the past 48 hours, we haven’t had any reports of dead animals, or residents complaining they have seen the animal, hence…we are evaluating if we are going to continue search efforts,” DNER Secretary Javier Vélez Arocho said in a radio interview.
Vélez Arocho said that authorities believe that the feline either moved to another area or its owner found it and took it home.
Vélez Arocho said that the exotic cat, described by witnesses that live in the Caimito and Monte Hiedra sectors in San Juan as a black panther has been able to dodge marksmen, cameras and cage traps including one with a live goat.
“A loose panther could be the escaped pet of drug traffickers, who are known for crowding their compounds on the island with rare, caged jungle cats and pedigree dogs such as pit bulls,” Vélez Arocho said.
It is illegal to own nonnative predators such as jungle cats in Puerto Rico.
In the mid-1990s, widespread news coverage chronicled the exploits of a mysterious beast known as “Chupacabras,” the “Goatsucker” in Spanish, which was rumored to dine on the blood of livestock and household pets.
Farm animals have died in inexplicable episodes on the island for decades.
Sources: Fox News, AP, Caribbean News.