A Civil Guard helicopter, several ground patrols and multiple volunteers from Spain’s Civil Protection agency are searching for a black panther in Ventas de Huelma, a small village in the southern province of Granada in Andalusia that is home to 600 people.
Local authorities warned about the animal’s alleged presence after several residents reported seeing it last Friday. A spokesperson from Spain’s Civil Guard, however, has said they cannot yet confirm whether the panther really exists, as no law enforcement officer on the case has either seen or heard it.
The first alert, according to Luis Miguel Ortiz, the mayor of Ventas de Huelma and Ácula, came at around 8pm on Friday, when a married couple spotted a large black animal that they identified as a panther as they were walking just 300 meters from the village. The mayor was warned of the sighting on Saturday morning, and immediately issued a statement informing the public of what had happened. That evening, according to Ortiz, the couple saw the animal again at the same spot and the same time.
No trace of it
On Sunday morning, the Civil Guard’s nature protection service (Seprona) organized a ground team and a helicopter search. But by Monday afternoon, nothing had turned up. “We have statements from people saying they have seen the animal, but we have not found a single trace of it,” said a spokesperson from the Civil Guard.
On Monday, Civil Guard officers were preparing to search the area again using the helicopter and night vision equipment. The goal was to start the search at dusk, when black panthers are most active, explained the Civil Guard spokesperson.
According to the mayor, a member of the Civil Protection force also saw the animal around one kilometer from the village. “Little by little we are corroborating that what the couple saw was true. We have also found some tracks that could belong to the animal,” said Ortiz. Some residents claim they heard panther-like sounds. Indeed, the owner of a bar in Escúzar, a village six kilometers from Ventas de Huelma, said he heard roars on Monday.
Panthers are protected animals and ownership requires a special license. Sources at Seprona’s Granada department said they are not aware of any panther owner living in the province – no private individuals, institutions or even zoos or circuses have applied for a license at any time. If a panther were really out there, it would also be a case of illegal possession of a protected species.
For the time being, villagers have been advised to stay away from the fields outside town, and if they do see a panther, to call the emergency services at once without trying to approach the animal.
In 2016, Seprona officials found a black panther inside a rural property in Arboleas, in the Andalusian province of Almería. In that case, the site was illegally keeping exotic animals.