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Two more big cat hoaxes are making their way around social media again. And while some of the people who are sharing these photos are doing so as a joke, others are quite serious. The photos show two different big cats, one a tiger and the other either a black jaguar or black leopard. The tiger has been attributed to the Highway 64 area of Atkinson County while the black cat has been "seen" in Perry, Glennville, and other South Georgia locations.
In short, these cats are nowhere near South Georgia. These are examples of big cat hoaxes that circulate on social media every so often. In South Georgia, people are passionate about their panthers. Most people are convinced there is a population of panthers, including black panthers, throughout the state. However, the official stance of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is that there aren't big cats in Georgia.
That is not a popular among many Georgians -- especially regarding black cats.
There are big cat populations in different parts of the United States, including Florida. Most, however, are out west. Florida panther populations are isolated to the southern portion of the state. According to a story last month in the Fort Myers News-Press, biologists believe there are 120-230 Florida panthers in the wild. Florida panthers are a subspecies of the mountain lion, which is found west of the Mississippi River.
And there are no black panthers or mountain lions indigenous to the United States.
Black panthers are either melanistic jaguars (South America) or leopards (Africa). You won't see a leopard of any color variation in the wild in the United States. You may, however, see black jaguars from time to time. There have been reliable sightings of black jaguars as far east as Louisiana. They venture into states along the Southwest border at different times as well. But there aren't breeding populations in the United States and there certainly aren't black jaguars in Georgia.
Regarding the tiger photo -- it's not true, either.
In 2020, DouglasNow did a story on another big cat hoax that made its way around social media. DN quoted Adam Hammond, senior wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. In an email to DN, Hammond wrote that he has investigated a number of big cat sightings over the previous 20 yeas and none had ever panned out. He didn't rule out the possibility of a Florida panther traveling north into Georgia, which was the case of a Florida panther killed near West Point Lake in 2008. That cat traveled over 600 miles from its home to Troup County -- and it most definitely made its way through some portion of South Georgia before it met its demise. There are also reliable reports of panthers moving east across the Mississippi River into portions of Tennessee.
But an isolated sighting does not translate into a breeding population.
In 2020, Hammond stated that going back to 1995, there had only been three big cat sightings that the DNR considered credible. Hammond cited the lack of DOR cats -- dead on road -- and clear, reliable trail camera photos as evidence that a population of big cats in Georgia doesn't exist. “So, is it possible? Maybe. Is it likely? Not really, and the evidence is entirely stacked up against the idea that we have a population of these animals in our state," he wrote in 2020.
But no matter which side of the issue you're on, these most recent pictures making their rounds are indeed hoaxes.
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