SHAFTER, CA - Sightings of a panther-like creature have people wondering if a big cat is roaming the city of Shafter. It's the talk of the town, but no one has been able to capture the black cat on camera.
"I would never expect a panther here. I don't know what a panther is doing here. I'm thinking it's well outside its native range," said Leah Volkoff.
Leah Volkoff and her husband live with their new baby girl on the northwest side of town and said they recently spotted a panther-like cat near the orchards, behind their reservoir.
"It actually looked like a bobcat to me at first. My husband said he noticed it was a lot darker," she continued.
People were pondering the possibility of a panther at the nearby S&A Market.
"I work at Shafter-Wasco Ginning in the maintenance shop, and some of our employees work out in the orchards, in the fields. They say they saw it," said Chuck Leonberg.
"How would a big cat like that get here in town?," asked one resident.
That is what everyone wants to know. Why would a large cat make its new home in the small farming town of Shafter? "They don't live around here," said another resident.
During the busy lunch rush at Tony's Pizza, the kitchen was buzzing about the possible panther. "Last night, I was on one of my social networks and I seen someone posted a picture," said Cindy Marroquin.
Cindy Marroquin is talking about a picture of a black panther in a field. The picture turned out to be a hoax and led to a series of fake pictures, including one of a panther on top of the Shafter sign.
The elusive black cat even has its own Facebook fan page. In one status update, the so-called cat wrote "So the fish and game people don't believe I exist, huh? Well maybe since I haven't seen them, maybe they don't exist. TRUTH."
"We don't want it running around loose if it's true, if it is a real panther," said one resident.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife says there is no real panther. In fact, the department says there are no panthers in California, only bobcats and mountain lions. There are black mountain lions, but biologists have never seen one in our state.
"The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has had a biologist go out to the site and we've had two game wardens go out to the site. They've looked for all kinds of tracks and they've looked for scat, which is fecal matter," said Harry Morse, California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
"We also had a USDA trapper trained in the same thing. There is no evidence of any cats in the area," he continued.
Morse said if game wardens hear about a sighting with a picture they can verify, they will continue their search for the black cat.