A black panther may be roaming New Haven, though where the mystery cat might have escaped from is unclear.
The Department of Natural Resources has received at least three reports of a black panther sighting in the city in the last three months. A report from one resident was accompanied by a cell phone photo of the big cat's apparent footprint.
Still, the DNR finds the possibility of a black panther surviving without being seen by authorities to be unlikely.
“If there was something out there, I would think we would be getting more reports of damage,” said Jason Wade, a District 5 wildlife biologist with the DNR.
“If there's something there, it has to be eating something. It's going to go after some larger prey.”
Black panthers are not native to northern Indiana, making the possibility of any of the big cats' existence here rare.
It isn't impossible, however, because residents can own one if they register it with the state, though none are registered, according to the DNR's office.
It doesn't mean a resident doesn't possess one of the animals illegally.
“It's not common, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were people in the area that owned them,” said Wade.
If dealers or zoos that were federally licensed through the Department of Agriculture were to have an escaped animal, they would be required to report the incident immediately.
None have reported any escapes.
Several residents of New Haven believe something like a black panther is lurking among them, and seem fearful enough to bombard Wade's office with reports.
Wade said the amount of reports is an influx from the norm, though they are not uncommon.
“That's maybe a little more than normal, but we usually get a couple a year at least from all over northern Indiana,” said Wade. “But if there's a report, we'll try to follow up on it. Now, if they don't have any prints, there's not much we can do with it. But if they've got actual evidence, we'll follow up on that.”
Wade said the clarity of the footprint pictures his office received made it difficult to determine whether they belonged to a big cat, or a dog, as both animals' footprints look alike.