Spain stepped up the hunt Friday for a “large feline” feared to be a black panther prowling near startled residents, after a four-day search netted no more than a fox and a domestic cat.
Environmental officers set up night-vision cameras and extra cages to try to trap the elusive animal seen by half a dozen people as it roamed in a protected park popular with walkers near the town of Berja in southern Spain.
“From all the witnesses’ descriptions it seems it is a black panther but we’re not sure,” said search coordinator Jacinto Navarro, an environmental officer of the Andalusia regional government.
“This very morning, almond farmers called us saying they were stunned to see this animal walking around,” Navarro said.
“They are worried because we are dealing with a dangerous animal in the wild,” he said, although no one had reported any aggressive behaviour.
There were no reports of such an animal going missing, Navarro added.
“We guess that someone who had the animal as a pet let it loose in this area,” he said.
But the “absolute priority” of the team of three environmental officers and three police was to catch the feline alive.
Despite setting up two cages in the area with large chunks of meat inside on Tuesday, they trapped no more than a domestic cat and a fox, both of which were immediately released, Navarro conceded.
On Friday, two more cages and two night-vision cameras were added, the regional government said in a statement.
If the animal is trapped, officers hope to shoot it with a tranquiliser gun and hand it over to a zoo in the neighbouring town of Tabernas which has offered to take it in, the government said.