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Is a big cat stalking southern Wake Forest?
By David Leone
Monday was a fine afternoon for being outside in a woodsy area. That’s exactly what I was doing in the hopes of finding and photographing the large black cat Shearon Farms neighborhood resident Jerry Dangler spotted Sunday.
Dangler sent The Wake Weekly a message and also warned his neighbors that Sunday at 8 a.m., he “saw a large black cat in the woods behind my house.”
The woods is to the east and south of the Corktree Court home and the neighborhood curves around it to the east. Due south is a large beaver pond. Beyond that is private property and then the Neuse River.
Dangler has had trouble with beavers savaging his trees, so he was out checking for the rodents when he heard rustling in the bushes, too large to be a squirrel.
“I saw something running away and it was kind of bounding through the water,” he told me by phone Monday. It stopped some 50 to 60 feet away and turned, showing its profile in broad daylight.
He describes it as an all-black cat, about 20-24 inches high at the shoulder; body and head approximately 4.5 feet long; tail approximately 3.5 feet long.
Dangler also found the remains — feathers and bones — of a goose next to a deer path that runs back into the woods.
And a neighbor told him she saw a large cat in dim light hunched over in another yard like it was eating something.
The deer path is what I set out on to explore Monday around 4 p.m. It winds roughly around the pond and a marshy area, heading east, then south.
Even standing at the edge of the yard, I was immediately struck by how much wildlife was visible. A red-headed woodpecker was perched on a dead branchless tree; a brown thrasher lighted on a stump in front of me and many other birds flitted about or dry bathed in dead leaves in the wood.
I saw several squirrels and about a million Canada geese passed by overhead, honking.
The trail was clear, but overgrown, and I could immediately see that finding the cat wasn’t going to be easy, even if was nearby.
With tall grasses, bushes and brambles crisscrossing every which way and trees down here and there, for much of the short walk I couldn’t see three feet away from me. At one point, I startled a rabbit or hare, which bounded away from a place I’d been looking straight at and hadn’t noticed.
Several runnels or rivulets crossed the path and a little ways in was a 10-15-foot wide area where the grasses were tramped down, probably from deer making a sleep area.
But I saw no panther, lynx or cat or dog, for which I was disappointed, and to some degree, relieved.
The way was choked with thorns in places; I had to pick them off of my shirt and jeans and suck one out of my thumb. And there were areas where bushes were in the way and trees I had to get by. If I had seen a cougar, I’d have had to be right on top of it with no place to run if it fancied a taste of homo sapiens in place of branta canadensis.
Some must be wondering if what Dangler saw was truly a cougar. (Cougar, panther, puma and mountain lion are interchangeable terms for the same large cat.) Cougars range the entirety of north and south America and vary in color, though darker-colored panthers are rare.
It’s not unusual for people sighting unusual animals to be confused in low light, or when distances seem closer than they are. Overlarge house cats have been reported as cougars, on occasion.
But Dangler was looking in daylight, and he’s not an excitable type — he is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who has spent more than a little time in the wild.
Regardless of what you believe, if you live in Shearon Farms or nearby neighborhoods, perhaps, for a little while, you ought to keep an eye on your kids and your pets, especially those that stay out at night.