I believe that this is a genuine black panther running loose near the Metropolitan city of Bari near the heel of Italy. Once again, however, the pictures of this escaped medium-sized wild cat (as it is sub-abult) are unclear. Will we ever see a nice, clear picture of a wild cat on the loose in Europe? And let’s be clear that a genuine black panther would be either a black adult leopard or a black adult jaguar both of which would be a lot larger than the cat pictured in my opinion. Both leopards and jaguars are big cats.
Therefore, this is probably a young black leopard because it size means that it is too small to be a full-sized adult leopard. When you look at the pictures you see a black cat with a very long tail, which is certainly bigger than a domestic cat but looking smaller than an adult black leopard (melanistic leopard), commonly called a black panther.
The reason why it is probably a genuine leopard is because the police believe that it is an escaped wild cat kept as a pet from a villa owned by a Mafia boss. There have been sightings around Bari in Puglia (the map below shows you where Bari is). They’ve used helicopter teams and a deployment of experts who confirmed that the tracks are those of a panther (can they be so sure?).
The mayor of the small town of Castellana Grotte asked citizens to be prudent but not to panic. His office has issued orders to joggers and dog walkers to stay at home to avoid frightening the cat which might cause aggressive behaviour.
The cat, however, has been seen and looks confused which is unsurprising seeing as it escaped from what must have been a full-time indoor life perhaps in an enclosure and is now in the wild. The cat is also estimated to be two years old.
Other mayors in districts nearby have also issued orders, one of which is for farmworkers to stay out of the fields. One local mayor, Carlucci, said that he had been told that the panther might have escaped from the property of a local mob boss; the source of the information?
He believes that the authorities should confiscate everything he has, when interviewed by La Stampa. He said that some time ago another person had a tiger as a pet and he disagrees with this because they bring the animals to Italy and then they let them escape, he said. It’s a serious matter.
Some locals have suggested that the Mafia boss may have been influenced by the Mafia television series called Gomorrah in which a Naples gangster kept a panther in his apartment.
A resident, Roberto Surico, said that he had seen the panther outside Acquaviva delle Fonti but it fleed into the woods when it heard a car engine. He said, “It seems scared and confused and the first thing I thought was that it had been raised in a house. I think it was young, about two years old.”
The animal may be the same one that was reported about last year roaming around nearly 100 miles away (see link above). If it is this cat, it has survived for about a year.
It needs to be caught in a manner which is as humane as possible and relocated to the wild (impossible dream?). As this is probably impractical, because the cat may have been raised by humans from a cub, I hope they can find the best possible sanctuary for it. Please do not send the cat to a zoo. These are horrible places for any animals and wild cat species generally do very badly at them because they become stressed as their normal territorial activity is many hundreds of times larger than the insides of a concrete-floored cage.