No fake news, I saw a panther! #freakingout

June 27, 2018


*I told Environmental Reporter, Ben Raines it was too bad the housewife/mom/Junior League columnist had this experience instead of him. He would have known exactly what this thing was. But now I know for sure my heart surgery was a success, since I didn’t fall over dead when I saw this beast! I actually stayed fairly calm . . . until I got back to the house and realized how dangerous it really was! Then, there was a little freak-out party. 

This isn’t the one I saw – just looks a lot like him.

There’s no fake news in this story — cross my heart. I saw a rare — some think non-existent, Florida panther and I came within inches of having him eat me alive. Proof of my story is that someone else finally captured the big cat – or his identical brother on video.

My word count restriction keeps me from relaying all the horrifying details, but if we ever meet in person, I’ll give you the full story, complete with a dramatic reenactment of how the panther looked racing away.

A very peaceful (or so I thought) path to the Santa Rosa Sound.


I took this photo as I was approaching the dock where I spotted the beast. I ended up in the small strip of sand to the left of the dock and the big cat was just behind the picnic table to the left.


Visiting my parents in Mary Esther, Florida, I decided to walk down their wooded path at dusk to the Santa Rosa Sound. I saw a gaggle of geese waddling down the beach, then over my left shoulder caught site of the beast. Not a wolf, coyote or other dog-like animal, not a short-tailed bobcat, but a sleek, black or dark grey long tailed cat, larger than my 62 pound dog.


With front paw extended and creeping low to the ground, he was ready to pounce. I had already started to jump off the dock and when I landed in the sand, Big Kitty took off like lightning. Striking the pose of a hood ornament on a Jaguar, he was gone in an instant, but I had a great view since he was in a cleared area, only about 15-20 feet away (I can’t estimate distances very well, so I actually got out a tape measure to be factual – more honesty points).

This is a jaguarundi in captivity. They only grow to be around 20 pounds. The kitty I saw was definitely over 60 lbs, but otherwise looked a lot like this.

The monster cat ran in the exact direction I needed to go to return to the house, so I either had to follow him, or swim to Destin. As I walked, not too fast, because cats like to chase things that run, I remembered a true family story, recorded in the Walton County history book about my great-great-great grandmother Howell who killed a big cat, which back then, they called a “catamount,” when it attacked her young son. When the boy was grown, he showed my father the scars he still had on his chest from the incident. “If my granny can kill a big cat with her bare hands, so can I,” but then prayed, “But God, you know I’m an exhausted middle-aged mom taking care of her parents, and I don’t have the energy to go all Kung Fu on Bagheera today. And besides, I’m having a really good hair day considering all this humidity . . .”

he was shaped like this, only heavier, not so slim.

Even though neighbors confirmed their dog was fighting something “big” in the bushes a few nights before, no one believed me and even my own mother laughed a judgmental ha-ha-ha.

The next day, I wanted to examine the beach for evidence of a goose dinner, so I took one of my dad’s fishing knives with a pretty leather case, and put it in the pocket of my new Talbot’s skirt. I love animals but wouldn’t hesitate to whoop-up on the panther and carry him home on my shoulders because Southern women will do anything to prove they are right. I only got as far as the top of the pathway and chickened out. Instead, I used the knife to cut some pretty magnolia leaves for an arrangement.

Four days later, my mother called, near hysteria, telling me about a story in The North West Florida Daily News, by journalist Annie Blanks. An animal exactly matching the description of “my” panther had been captured on video 20 miles north, through undeveloped Air Force land. I contacted the creator of the video, Joshua Neel, who agreed it was at least 60 pounds and looked like a panther. The cat in his yard was large enough to bend a sturdy fence. Although the local wildlife officials said it was probably a “jaguarundi”– which I’d never heard of, but discovered they only grow to an average of 20 pounds and live in South America. environmental reporter, Ben Raines, who is very “outdoorsy,” said it could indeed have been a panther, so who knows? Either way, I’ve got a great story to tell my grandchildren someday. Not as heroic as my great-great-great granny’s story, but a good tale, nonetheless. I promise you one last time, my journalistic integrity is alive and well, and thank God, so am I.


You can see the video by Joshua Neel and read the story about his encounter with a large cat, written by Annie Blanks from The North West Florida Daily News HERE.

See this story on HERE

Leave a Reply

  1. Wow! That is intense! I always worry about running into a gator or a big snake. Never thought of coming face to face with a wild cat. Very scary!

  2. There was one here in Greystone Farms a few weeks ago!!! It wasn’t on our street but several people recorded it. Yikes!!! Plus the bear population has exploded, and there have been bear sightings all around Lake Martin!!!

  3. No extra words are really needed to let me know you were scared. I have no clue how you remained as calm as you did or that you would ever walk down that path again.

    1. At the time, I was just amazed — not even in shock, just not really believing what I was seeing. It was even kind of pretty to see. Later, after I had time to process it . . . AAAaaaggggghhhhh!!!!!

  4. Oh Leslie Anne!!!! I’m sure your little heart had a workout for sure. Coming so close to that cat would terrify me and I’m sure you probably were. Thanks goodness you are ok. Find a walking buddy when you are there!!!!!

  5. I totally believe you…I would have been screaming. You should hear me when there is a mouse sighting. Just yesterday, I went out my front door and there was a black snake about two feet long right outside the front door. We may need to put the house on the market. I don’t care if snakes eat mice…I don’t want the snakes or your panther. Next up, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Love your story and I would have taken a machete if I was walking to that pier again.

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