Photo of Large Black Cat in Mississippi

Panther sightings in Mississippi have become the equivalent to the Sasquatch phenomenon over the years.

Claims that panthers have been witnessed in South Mississippi are nothing new, but if you ask Richard Rummel of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, that just doesn’t seem likely.

“For 30 years, I’ve been following panther reports and looked at a lot of tracks and trail-cam photos and that sort of thing,” Rummel said. “But it always turns out be something else, whether it’s bobcats, otters, dogs and housecats and everything else.

“We get reports just like every other state in the Eastern U.S. does, and we haven’t been able to confirm anything.”

Jamie Daughdrill of Brooklyn is one of those area residents who claims to have proof that a black panther roams the southern part of Forrest County.

He has a photo of a black feline walking across his food plot that he took with his game camera.

“I know probably less than a quarter mile from there, my wife’s niece was coming home from work six years ago. She saw something big and black cross the road and she came in and told us ‘I saw a black panther cross the road,’” Daughdrill said. “Nobody had seen anything of it for six or seven years until I got the picture on my game camera.”

Daughdrill said he wasn’t able to pick out any panther tracks near his game camera.

“All I’m saying is that it’s big and black and looks like a panther,” he said. “I never said it was a panther, but I’ve heard all my life there weren’t any in South Mississippi, but people are always hearing them.

“I’ve heard a bunch of people around Carnes in Red Creek that have said they hear one at certain times during the year. My wife’s grandfather said he had seen one once.”

The only population of panthers in the Southeast exist in Southwest Florida where about 80-100 exist and Rummel says they typically don’t travel very far from their homes. Most people claim to see a black panther, but that would be an impossible sight considering the Florida Panther is a tawny brown color.

What surprises many people is actually how big the Florida Panther is – the male can weigh up to 150 lbs. while the females don’t usually weigh over 100 lbs. They typically hunt prey like deer, wild hogs and raccoons.

“The Florida population is what was left after we basically killed off everything in the eastern U.S.,” Rummel said. “The western population is starting to move east toward Colorado and Nebraska.”

Rummel, who is a projects director for the MDWFP, says he takes each claim of a panther sighting seriously.

“I’ve had some reports that sounded like a good description,” Rummel said. “I’ll ask them to look for tracks and something that’s definitive. A lot of the times they’ll just find dog tracks, otter tracks or bobcat tracks.”

Local radio show host Ben Willoughby worked together with a couple of local taxidermists to see if they could get anyone to provide proof of a panther for a handsome reward.

“We kind of laugh about it,” said Kyle Turner of Turner Bros. Taxidermy in Hattiesburg. “I can honestly say there were people scared to have their kids play in the backyard because of black panthers.

“We told them we’ll give them $13,000 if they kill a black panther and bring it in. Me and Drew (Kyle’s brother) gathered $1,000 each from friends, we could have gone to $50,000.”

Willoughby put the contest to rest after three years when no hunter was able to produce a black panther.

“People almost get mad when you tell them that black panthers don’t exist,” Turner said. “If they exist, I’d love to see one.”

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