New York State conservation officers were investigating reports that a “panther-like” animal was on the loose in East Hampton this week.
According to Bill Fonda, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Conservation, two officers responded to a call from the East Hampton Town Police Department for assistance in investigating a reported sighting of the animal at a farm on Spring Close Lane off Spring Close Highway.
Mr. Fonda said Matthew Lester reported that when he drove onto the property to do some work at about 11 a.m. on Sunday, he “observed a grayish, cat-looking creature about five feet long and two feet high at the shoulder with a long, striped tail, eating some composted vegetables and meat scraps.”
“The animal fled quickly into the brush upon Lester’s arrival in his truck,” Mr. Fonda said.
The conservation officers saw tracks in the area, took photos of them and forwarded them to DEC wildlife staff to review. “They did not find any other evidence of a large cat in the area, such as hair,” Mr. Fonda said.
An East Hampton Town Police report indicated that a police officer joined the DEC officers in searching the area at about noon on Sunday to no avail. That report described the animal as “a large black, possibly dark gray cat with a white striped tail about five and a half feet long” and said it was eating old vegetables at the edge of the farm field.
According to Mr. Fonda, there is a compost pile of rotting vegetables that attracts many kinds of animals to the area, which is leased by Lester Farms and owned by Mike Bistrian. “We investigated the entire property and surrounding woods,” Mr. Fonda wrote in an email. He said the officers intend to set up a “trail camera” where Mr. Lester saw the animal. The police report said the DEC planned to set a bait trap the following day.
To date, Mr. Fonda emphasized, there has not been “sufficient evidence of a cougar, panther, jaguar or similar exotic cat in the area.” The DEC has previously had reports of big cats being loose, according to Mr. Fonda. “Generally they don’t turn out to be the case,” he said.
Curtis O’Brien of Skimhampton Road said on Monday that two or three of his neighbors in the Skimhampton-Further Lane area had told him over the weekend that they saw “something black, 5 to 6 feet in length, hunting the deer pack.”
In an email, he described it as “supposedly … some form of South American jaguar.”
The DEC conducted a data search to see if anyone in the area had a license, say, for educational purposes, to possess a big wildcat, but came up empty. “There’s nobody who’s licensed to possess a jaguar in Suffolk County,” Mr. Fonda said Monday, adding that that did not mean someone might not have a large cat that was not licensed.
“Also, when we did the database search yesterday, we did search for all cats, not just jaguars, and nothing came up in the forks area of Long Island,” he added on Tuesday.
Mr. O’Brien has a chow-collie mix that he takes into his yard without a leash. The dog, which weighs about 40 pounds, can be territorial, he said, explaining that he does not want it to chase or provoke the larger animal.
“We’re just kind of being very cautious right now,” Mr. O’Brien said.