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Big, black cat - jaguar or leopard - killed in Southern Missouri

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

NEOSHO, Mo. (AP) -- A large, black animal -- either a jaguar or a leopard -- that apparently either lost its way or was dumped by someone, was shot and killed by a deputy after a woman reported the animal pawing at her door.

Cpl. Donn Hall of the Newton County Sheriff's Department responded Monday to a call from a woman saying a "black panther" was on its hind legs at her door, said Capt. Richard Leavens. When Hall got out of his car, the animal charged at him.

"He fired on it and wounded it," Leavens said. "It ran past him to the end of the driveway and then came back at him."

When the cat charged a second time, Hall fired additional shotgun blasts and then pulled out his .45-caliber handgun.

"It took several shots with that to get one that took effect," Leavens said. Hall was not injured.

The department called an officer from state Conservation Department, who said the animal's species was not immediately clear. It appeared that the cat was unaccustomed to living in the wild, the officer said.

"This most likely was a kept animal that either had been dumped out or had gotten away," Leavens said. The animal's claws had been surgically removed.

He said there was speculation the animal might have been on the loose in the wake of the recent tornado damage in the region.

James Dixon, a wildlife damage biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, said the animal, which weighed about 50 pounds, appeared to have been well-fed, even fat, perhaps from having been kept in a cage.

But its stomach seemed empty, which might explain its behavior, he said.

"He could have just been coming around looking for a handout," Dixon said. "Who knows what it was thinking?"

Dixon said more research is needed to determine what the animal is, but he said it's either a leopard or a jaguar.

Leopards are native to Africa and Asia, with black leopards found in Africa. Jaguars are indigenous to South America, Central America and certain parts of the southwestern United States. But black jaguars are practically unheard of in the United States.

Dixon said it will require skull and teeth measurements to ascertain the species. Tissue samples could be taken if those measurements are not conclusive, he said.


Information from: The Joplin Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com


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