Big cat spotted in Broward backyard wasn’t a panther, biologists say

PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. – Surveillance video showed the glowing eyes of a four-legged animal recently on the prowl in Pembroke Pines. It left behind a paw print that was several inches wide.

Argenis Fernandez said the camera was recording his backyard when it captured the animal moving around. He used the proportions of the video to estimate it was 3 to 4 feet long.

“You see the length of the tail and the shape of the tail, that’s when I said, ‘Wow!’ It could be a Florida panther,” Zoo Miami’s Ron Magill said.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission panther biologists have since confirmed that the animal was not in fact a panther. Despite its size, it could still be a domestic or stray cat.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, mature male Florida panthers grow to be nearly 7 feet long from tail to nose and females grow about 6 feet long. Florida panther kittens are gray with dark brown or blackish spots and bands around the tail.

Before FWC weighed in, the Fernandez family was convinced it was a Florida panther, which the U.S. Department of the Interior listed as an endangered subspecies in 1967. Experts believed there were fewer than 30 in Florida in the 1990s. Argenis Fernandez said he hopes it is a sign that the recovery efforts are increasing the population.

“I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s a rare and beautiful sighting even though I didn’t get to actually see it in person. I think it’s wonderful for the state of Florida,” Argenis Fernandez said.

Florida's recovery goal is to achieve viability of the Florida panther to a point where it can be reclassified from endangered to threatened. (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

The Fernandez family lives away from a canal that is east of the Everglades and Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area. Florida panthers are rarely seen in urban areas and usually hunt small mammals such as raccoons in remote areas.

“These animals really have a fear of people,” Magill said. “The reason why we don’t see them often is because they are very shy and they avoid us.”

For more information about how to report a Florida panther sighting, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s wildlife hotline at 1-888-404-3922.

About the Authors:

Janine Stanwood joined Local 10 News in February 2004 as an assignment editor. She is now a general assignment reporter. Before moving to South Florida from her Washington home, Janine was the senior legislative correspondent for a United States senator on Capitol Hill.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.