When residents of a Florida country club community stepped out of their homes, they noticed a fluffy ball tucked behind a shrub by a stairwell.
Taking a closer look through some binoculars, they saw what looked like a cat — but much bigger.
The residents of Bonita National Country Club called the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, according to a Dec. 4 news release from the department.
Deputies confirmed what the residents suspected: An endangered Florida panther was snoozing in the shrubbery, a rare sighting.
“After confirming it was in fact a panther, we notified … Florida Fish and Wildlife to assist,” the sheriff’s office said.
Wildlife officials arrived and tranquilized the panther so it could be safely relocated, an FWC spokesperson told McClatchy News in an email.
Biologists said the 1.5-year-old female cat was about 60 pounds, and they collared the animal so it can be tracked in the future, the FWC said.
“Encounters with Florida panthers are relatively rare but do occur, particularly in places connected to rural areas of southwest Florida,” the FWC said.
Florida panthers are typically found south of Orlando, FWC says on its website, and can weigh anywhere between 60 and 160 pounds.
The species is endangered, as the National Wildlife Foundation estimates there are only 200 panthers left in the wild.
The female panther was safely transported to Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed Wildlife and Environmental Area and released, wildlife officials said.
“If you live, work or recreate in panther habitat, there are things you can do to enhance your safety and that of your friends, family and animals,” the FWC said.
If you see a panther:
Keep young children close by and within sight
“Most Florida panthers will avoid a confrontation,” FWC said, so you should give the animal space
Just like if you see a Florida black bear, you should not run from the panther. Instead, stand facing the animal and make direct eye contact.
Do not try to look small like a prey animal. Do not bend over or crouch.
Open your jacket, put your hands up and make yourself appear larger while throwing stones or branches without turning away.
“Simply seeing a panther in your neighborhood is not necessarily a cause for alarm,” the FWC said. “However, FWC biologists are interested in your sighting of a panther or its tracks.”
You can report a panther sighting and send photos to Report Florida Panther Sightings.
Bonita National Country Club is in southwest Florida, about 100 miles northwest of Miami.