Big cat paw prints, possibly a cougar, found in Hancock Co.

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 15, 2010

BAY ST. LOUIS (AP) — Authorities fear a big cat, perhaps a cougar, may be roaming the Cedar Point area in Bay St. Louis in Hancock County.

‘‘I was raised in Hancock County, and the old people used to talk about the panthers — the big cats,’’ city animal control Officer Dorty Necaise said Tuesday.

Now, talk of the big cats has returned, brought about by sighting reports and the death of a small dog that was mauled in the vicinity recently.

Deputy Police Chief Mike De Nardo said a family on July 8 reported that their miniature schnauzer had been attacked and killed by a larger animal.

‘‘The owners heard the dog yapping. They went outside and saw a large creature dragging the dog off,’’ he said.

Necaise said he tracked the animal over the weekend and found paw prints that were the size of a Great Dane’s, but obviously from a feline-like creature with big claws.

He said he gathered sets of prints in the mud of the Cedar Point area and from sand traps on the Hollywood Casino golf course.

State wildlife officials were going to join local trapper Clark Breland in searching for the reclusive animal.

Since Hurricane Katrina decimated the area in 2005, Necaise said nature has reclaimed parts of Cedar Point that have not been rebuilt and wild animals abound.

‘‘It’s much wilder than any other part of the city,’’ Necaise said.

There have been reports of hogs, alligators, foxes, bobcats, coyotes and other wild animals, he said.