April 07, 2023
The rumor of a possible black panther on the loose in Hamilton Township was put to rest Friday by police, who shot down the reported sighting that had caused a stir on social media.
The large, black-furred animal seen roaming in the community's Weymouth section appears to have just been a big dog, police said.
On Thursday, a Facebook post gained traction for relaying a report of a "possible black panther" seen in the wooded area of Third Street and Drake Avenue, near Mays Landing. A post on the South Jersey subreddit suggested the animal may have escaped from an exotic pet owner.
Officers were sent to the area to investigate the report. Police noted that the person who saw the animal suggested it might be a black coyote or large cat.
"After a brief search, officers located a large black dog which belonged to a local resident," police said.
The initial report came from a single source who saw the animal; all calls related to the possibility of a panther have been unsubstantiated, authorities said.
Earlier this week, police in North Wildwood warned residents of a coyote seen roaming around the shore community. It's possible that played into some heightened awareness of an unusual animal in Hamilton Township. Numerous social media posts warned residents to take precautions for their pets and children.
Black panthers are color variants of jaguars and leopards. They aren't found in the wild in the United States. Black leopards generally have been documented in tropical forests in parts of Africa and Asia. Black jaguars are sometimes found in Mexico, but usually inhabit forests in countries further south of the equator including Costa Rica, Brazil and Paraguay.
Bobcats are the only native wild cat species found in New Jersey. Although some people claim to have spotted mountain lions in New Jersey, state wildlife officials say they don't exist there. In Pennsylvania, free roaming mountain lions haven't been documented since the late 1960s. Their presence in this region was gradually wiped away by European settlement.
Some biologists have advocated that Pennsylvania reintroduce mountain lions, also known as eastern cougars, in order to control deer populations. The idea has yet to catch on with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, which would need to conduct a lengthy feasibility study.
For now, South Jersey residents can rest assured that there isn't a big cat on the prowl.