Residents Keep Track of Bear, Panther Sightings

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PORTAGE COUNTY, Ohio -- There have been more sightings of not one, but two, wild animals reported in a local neighborhood.

No one has been hurt, but authorities are becoming increasingly concerned.

"It's the talk of the town," said Patty Morgan, a clerk at the Save 4 Store on State Route 303 in Mantua.

She says many people who stop in have either seen a black bear in the area or know someone who has.

"They're just coming in, telling us how the bear is eating from the bird feeders, and they're having fun with the bird feeders," Morgan says.

Several residents have gotten close enough to get video of the black bear. Portage County Sheriff David Doak says the first sighting happened sometime in late May.

"As far as I know, it hasn't bothered anybody, or attacked anybody, so I'm sure she's just looking for a place to go or something to eat," said Mantua resident John Antonetti.

In recent weeks, several residents have now reported seeing a black panther, too.

"The panther, one gentleman came in, saying that he saw it crossing the road up ahead of him as he was driving," said Morgan.

Although he can't say for sure, the sheriff says he suspects the panther was someone's pet that was released after Ohio tightened its laws on exotic animals.

A farm owner in the area believes the big cat attacked one of its mules a few weeks ago.

"They really don't want to deal with the panther, but the bear is kind of like, it's there, they come through every year," Morgan added.

The owner of the convenience store keeps a running tally of sightings people tell him about on the marquee in front of his store.

That number keeps growing.

"The count that's up there is very close to the actual sightings, you'd have to add about four to the panther sightings," she said.

Sheriff Doak says he is having a wild animal expert from Holmes County come up to give them some advice.

He says they have not been able to track either of the animals, because the ground has been too dry for them to leave prints.