No panther panic needed

PUBLISHED: 13:35 06 August 2009 | UPDATED: 16:06 11 May 2010

Mr Zambonini ( Make sure you carry cat food , Postbag, 23 July) is absolutely right to warn against panic over possible sightings of a panther in the locality. I completely agree with him that there is no need for ramblers to carry firearms. As he notes,

Mr Zambonini ("Make sure you carry cat food", Postbag, 23 July) is absolutely right to warn against panic over possible sightings of a panther in the locality. I completely agree with him that there is no need for ramblers to carry firearms. As he notes, most wild cats are scared of humans, although a feral panther might regard small dogs as potential lunch.

But I think Mr Zambonini is wrong to suggest walkers carry tins of cat food to appease the animal. This behaviour could cause the panther to associate humans with food, and to lose its fear of us. Although it is an innate human trait to want to tame and control nature, in this case the panther's natural caution is our biggest safeguard.

Can I offer some advice based on my time in southern Florida, where local panthers (cougars) are increasingly approaching human settlements? Readers who encounter the North Herts panther should stand still, face the animal and maintain eye contact. Running will simply trigger its natural instinct to chase after prey. Confident behaviour (talking in a loud, slow voice; raising arms out slowly to appear larger, etc) can all help communicate to the animal that you are a potential threat, not potential food. As a last resort, a stout walking stick can be a very useful deterrent. Cougars aren't cowards, but they will always prefer to avoid a confrontation with humans, however hungry they are.

Above all, we need to keep a sense of proportion. Panthers are magnificent animals, and globally we are far more of a threat to them than they are to us!

Ian Simpson

Royston

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