The “panther-like” animal spotted on September 9 in an East Hampton farm field was probably a fox, Aphrodite Montalvo, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Environmental Conservation, said last week.
Ms. Montalvo said recent calls to the agency have suggested a boom in the fox population. “Eventually they’re going to get mange,” Ms. Montalvo said, adding that when that happens, the animal loses its hair in patches, including from their normally bushy tails, and “they don’t look very foxlike.” She added, too, that foxes “move like cats.”
A large, cat-like creature was reported at about 11 a.m. on September 9 at the edge of a farm on Spring Close Lane. It was said to be about 5 feet long and eating “composted vegetables and meat scraps,” according to Bill Fonda, a DEC spokesman.
The full length of a red fox, from head to tail, can be close to 4 feet, Ms. Montalvo said: about 26 inches from the head to the end of the body, plus a tail of 14 to 18 inches.
According to Ms. Montalvo, DEC officers took photos at the East Hampton farm that showed nail or claw marks, “which are not the type of tracks that a large cat would make, as they have retractable claws and do not leave claw marks with their footprints.”
Although the red fox is the predominant fox breed on Long Island, there are also some gray fox, which, she said, are approximately the same size.
A “credible source” reported seeing a fox that “seemed to have some type of issue with its fur,” Ms. Montalvo said. That sighting was at the end of August and in Montauk’s Hither Woods, not in East Hampton, however. A fox’s home range is no more than 5 miles, according to the DEC.
There have been other reported fox sightings recently, Ms. Montalvo said. Foxes can be scavengers, she said, and will at times eat vegetation in addition to small mice.
“Currently, DEC does not [have] sufficient evidence that there may be a large cat in the area,” Ms. Montalvo said in an email on Wednesday.
She asked anyone who sees anything resembling a large wildcat or its tracks, fur or scat to take a quick photo and contact the DEC at its law enforcement office (631-444-0250) or hotline (1-800-TIPPDEC) or wildlife unit (631-444-0310).