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Big cat attacks cows in Black Creek
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A "big cat" reportedly killed a cow and injured another April 25 near Olive Branch Road in Bryan County.

An investigation is ongoing, but authorities suspect it was a cougar or panther.

Property owner Martin Griner called the sheriff’s department when he discovered the cows bloodied and lying down near his 100-acre Black Creek stable.

According to the police report, both cows suffered from "deep scratch marks" and one cow had a large bite wound above the tail. The one with the bite wound was reported dead on Monday.

Bryan County Control Officer Thomas Sanders was called to the scene where he took pictures and advised the property owner to call a veterinarian.

Both Sanders and the vet report, which was faxed to authorities, confirmed that a "big cat" had done the damage.

Sanders contacted the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and the DNR is currently investigating the attack. Wildlife biologist Steve Kyle, who does work for the DNR, is slated to examine the photos of the cows’ injuries next week in an attempt to determine what animal savagely attacked the cows. There were no tracks found at the scene, so it is based solely on the nature of the injuries.

"We haven’t released anything to the public because we have yet to confirm what we’re dealing with yet," Sanders said. "Why cause widespread panic if there may be no need for it? This is the first time we’ve ever had a report like this."

DNR Ranger Randy Tinley said the absence of any tracks - canine or feline - in the area makes it difficult to determine what animal may have killed and injured the cows.

One can tell a feline paw print from a canine paw print easily - a cat does not leave claw marks, as their claws are retracted. Dogs leave claw marks with paw prints, he said.

But the attack raises questions about whether there are panthers in southeast Georgia.

Bryan County Animal Control Officer Valerie Barnard said there are panthers in the area, "but you just don’t see them much."

Internet searches and documented interviews show numerous reports of panther sightings - both the alleged black panther and the recognized tawny panther with black and white markings - across Georgia and other states in the Southeast.

Tinley said there is no confirmed "living, breathing population of panthers in Georgia" but said panthers do roam, citing two Florida panthers with tracking collars that wandered a good distance into Georgia in the mid-90’s before being captured and relocated back to Florida.

"They are roamers," Barnard said. "More than likely he (the panther she believes killed and injured the cattle on Olive Branch Road) is not in the area anymore."

She said her office has been receiving numerous calls from concerned citizens in the area who have learned of the attacks and are worried about the presence of big cats in the area.

"We tell them it’s out of our hands now," she said. "We don’t have the means to trap (large animals) and DNR is handling it."

Tinley acknowledged reports of people claiming to see large cats, including black panthers, of which there is no scientific evidence of existence. What people call a black panther "is a black jaguar," which is not native to the country, he said.

Tinley said people may mistake a black coyote for what they think is a black panther.

But since no animal was seen, even if a "big cat" is responsible for the attack, there is no way to determine its color, Barnard pointed out.

There is a population of panthers in Florida, and they do roam, sometimes covering long distances, according to Internet Web site

"The Florida Panther is a subspecies of cougar that has adapted to the subtropical environment of Florida," according to the site. "Only 80 to 100 panthers still remain in Florida, making this one of the most rare and endangered mammals in the world."

Adult males may range over an area of 200 square miles. Panthers can travel 15-20 miles a day, according to the web site.

Another feral cat has a presence in Florida as well.

"While Jaguarundis are not native to the southeastern United States, it is believed that a feral population exists in Florida, established from an introduced population of escaped pets in the 1940’s," according to web site information.

Jaguarundis, smaller than the panther, occur in a variety of solid colors, including dark gray or black.

Statesboro Herald reporter Hollie Deal Bragg contributed to this story.

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