Panther spotted in Natchez?

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 14, 2010

NATCHEZ — Keith Mason saw something Wednesday night he’s never seen before.

Mason spotted what he believes to be a black panther less than 50 yards from the back of his Cindy Lane house, located just off U.S. 61 North in Natchez.

“He was about three or four feet long, maybe 40 or so pounds with a big, long tail,” he said. “He was jet black. I shined my flashlight out there on him and he took off.”

The cat left tracks and an impression of its long tail in the muddy rows of Mason’s garden.

“I had flooded it just a couple of days ago so it was still wet,” he said of his garden. “I’m glad it was wet or we wouldn’t have any signs of that cat being around here.”

The cat, Mason said, was sitting at the edge of his backyard garden, and Mason doesn’t believe Wednesday night’s visit was the first for this large cat.

“My neighbor saw him a few days ago while he was watering his garden,” Mason said. “Then the cat was sitting out in that clearing just crouched down like he had his eyes on something.”

Mason said the large wild cat might also be to blame for killing his neighbor’s house cat and leaving behind little of the feline.

“All that was left was one hind-quarter,” Mason said. “He must have gotten spooked by something and run off.”

Mason called the Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Wednesday night and an agent came to his house Thursday afternoon to view and take pictures of the evidence left behind by the cat.

Those pictures were forwarded to wildlife biologist in the Jackson office of the department.

Mason’s sighting was not the first reported sighting of a large, black wild cat in the U.S. 61 North area.

Steve Kirkland reported seeing a large black cat across a ditch on the back side of the Adams County Christian School property.

Kirkland, a maintenance worker at the school, said the cat he saw was about three feet tall, from the ground to the top of its back.

Mason said the property around his house is just a short distance from ACCS through a wooded area and across a creek.

While Mason hopes the cat can be trapped and released in an area away from residences, he isn’t afraid of the cat he saw.

“He’s just as afraid of us as we are of him,” Mason said. “He isn’t going to do anything to a person, but an animal isn’t going to be as lucky.”