G. Sam Piatt
PDT Outdoors Columnist
It’s been more than five years since Cheryl Stone of Maloneton, located off Ky. 7 five or six miles south of South Shore, looked out her kitchen window and saw what she swears was a black panther crossing a field toward Schultz Creek.
Now, just last month, Jesse Spears, driving along 7 in the same general area, saw what he was certain was a tawny-colored mountain lion.
He took a right turn on a country lane in hopes of getting a better look.
It was far too big to be a wildcat, he said. And besides, it had a long tail, while wildcats, also called bobcats, have a short, stubby tail – a “bobbed-tail” cat.
He saw the cat again at the base of a high cliff that runs for hundreds of yards in the area.
“I believed I had it trapped and was going to get a real good look at it,” Spears said.
But as he drove closer, he watched the cat leap to a ledge, then leap again to the top of the cliff.
And then he was gone.
He said he wouldn’t have believed – unless he saw it – that the creature could cover that kind of height with two bounds.
THE BLACK ONE
Stone, speaking of the cat she saw during the last week of February, 2009, said she ran out to her sun porch to get a better look.
“It was black, and it was much too long in the body to have been a large house cat,” she said at the time.
She watched it follow the creek for a short distance before disappearing into the hills.
Stone believed what she saw was a black panther.
She described the cat as being at least three feet long in body, not counting its head or long tail, and stood at least two feet high at the shoulders.
“I may never see it again. But that’s what I thought when I saw a wild turkey. Now I see them in the field all the time.”
“Sightings of large cats have been reported in Kentucky and many other eastern states for decades,” Steven Dobey, a wildlife biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, said on the department’s Website.
Mountain lions are also called panthers, cougars or pumas.
“Regardless of the name, however, there is no evidence that Kentucky is home to a population of mountain lions,” Dobey said.
“And there is no such thing as a black panther in North America, let alone Kentucky,” he said. “The only black cats are South African jaguars and Southeastern Asian leopards.”
He’s not going to convince Cheryl Stone and at least a dozen other residents of northeastern Kentucky who have reported seeing tawny mountain lions and black panthers for the past 20 years. Conservation officers often receive calls from someone claiming to have seen a black panther or mountain lion.
That “black panther” Stone saw, Dobey said, “is a domestic cat or dog, bobcat, river otter or black bear. Coyotes, which now occur statewide, are often black due to crossbreeding with domestic dogs.”
All of which Stone said was nonsense. She knows what she saw, and it wasn’t any of those things.
The only true population of mountain lions in the eastern U.S. occurs in south Florida, and there’s thought to be fewer than 100 adults left. Even with that small population, wildlife officials still document five to 15 panthers killed each year by cars or trucks.
“If there were a breeding population (of the big cats) here, we would have to see some evidence to support it, such as road kills,” Dobey said.
STALKED BY A GRIZZLY
Dr. Miller Toombs of Portsmouth, who passed away earlier this year, shared a story with me about an elk hunt he and some friends took to Montana about 20 years ago, a hunt from which he feels lucky to have come back from alive.
I wrote the story but couldn’t find it and so I told it from memory in the newspapers about the time of his obituary running.
But I just discovered the story attached to the one I did on Stone and her black panther. Here it is:
He was out with his rifle hunting, miles from camp, when he saw a grizzly bear up ahead. It looked at him before disappearing into some bushes.
“I kept going and when I got down to just about that spot, all of a sudden I heard something screeching. I looked up into a tree and saw an orange/yellowish bear cub yelling down at me,” Toombs said.
Knowing he had gotten himself into a dangerous situation, he backtracked, made his way through the snow down to the creek, and followed the creek back to camp.
His buddies were in that area the next day and saw Toombs’ footprints in the snow.
And something else. For about two miles, huge bear tracks followed right behind his tracks.
Though he never saw the bear again after spotting the cub, it had stalked him all that distance – for some reason choosing not to attack.
His wife, Jennie, said, “He called me that night and –from the tone of his voice – I thought somebody had died. His voice was shaky. I guess he was just glad to be alive.”
One of Tombs’ friends had reloaded some .30/06 shells for him.
“I didn’t find out until later that they did not fit my rifle,” he said. “I was armed also with a .44-caliber sidearm, but I would have hated to….”
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (606) 932-3619 OR [email protected]