Wild Kingdom? Bear, Big Cat Sightings in Portage Co.

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SHALERSVILLE, Ohio -- Some wild visitors have people on edge in Portage County.

The area is known for its serene farmland and, from time to time, a visitor of a predatory nature.

"It's like wild kingdom," says Shalersville resident Chuck Teece.

Teece should know. He came face to face with a black bear in his mother’s driveway Friday morning.

"I got a phone call from my mother who told me to look on her driveway cause there was a bear eating out of her bird feeder," Chuck explains.

His mother Irene Teece lives next door. She and her friend, Don Heasley, say the young, male black bear returned to their property three times Friday to feed at their bird feeders.

By the end of the day, all of the feeders were broken and their nerves were frazzled.

“I’m a little leary to go out right now to be truthful,” said Heasley.

"(The bear) went right back in our woods so he could still be back there," Teece's wife, Brigette, said.

Black bears are no strangers to northeast Ohio, but what is out of the ordinary: six sightings in the past week alone.

Heasley captured video of the bear lounging in their driveway, and he is not alone.

Additional video shot by Portage County sheriff's deputies shows the bear hiding up a tree Friday.

Just three days earlier, and only a few miles away, another family living on Infirmary Road had a run-in with the bear and recorded video of the 150-200 pound animal helping himself to their bird feeder.

“He’s a pretty good-sized bear,” said David Ruehr.

David and his wife, Irene, have lived in their home for 41 years. The couple says they’ve never seen a bear on their five-acre property before.

“Well, I tell you, it’s exciting,” said Irene, “He was just beautiful. His coat was real shiny. I can see why people would think they are snuggly and want to touch them.”

However, Sheriff David Doak is asking people to keep their distance.

Doak is not sure if the county is dealing with multiple sightings of the same bear or not. Although, it seems to be the same bear living and dining in a 5-to-10 mile radius.

“I’m concerned for the public’s safety,” said Sheriff Doak.

Perhaps even more unsettling are reports that a panther may also be on the loose in Portage County.

A family on Frost Road in Mantua reported seeing an animal that looked like a panther attack one of their mules.

The department has gotten four calls over the last week from residents who have spotted a very large cat.

"(The witness) described it as the back of it coming up to his mid-thigh, and he stretched out his arms and said he couldn't have touched it front to back," Doak explained.

The panther has been spotted running through fields and jumping tall fences. Doak says it may have once been an exotic pet.

"Perhaps somebody had this cat as a pet, might have been raising it, and it got loose, or they turned it loose," he said.

Albert Ahrens farms land on Lake-Rockwell Road. Ahrens said he saw the big cat dart in front of his tractor. 

“It appeared to be 4-to-5 feet long with a 3-foot tail and ran across the field,” said Ahrens.

Sheriff Doak is asking residents to keep a keen eye on their children, pets and farm animals, and to report any sightings. He stresses that no one should try to approach, corner, capture or harm any of these animals.

The sheriff’s department is working with the Ohio Division of Wildlife to track and catch the animals.

As for where they came from, it’s anyone’s guess.

“The bear probably got run out of Western PA. The older bears chase them out for territory during breeding,” said Heasley, who grew up in New Castle, Penn., and is very familiar with black bears.

David Ruehr quipped, “They got a convention -- a wildlife union -- I don’t know what the deal is.”

One thing is certain, people in Portage County say they won’t let their children and grandchildren play outside in the yard until both the panther and bear are accounted for.

“You don’t know which corner it may be hiding around ... who’s gonna surprise who,” said Chuck Teece.

- Fox 8 News Reporter Autumn Ziemba contributed to this report.

*Below Video Courtesy of RecordPub.com:

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