Italian park held hostage by 'veggie' panther

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The panther has not been found in spite of a two week hunt. Photo: Xcaret Panther/Flickr
15:20 CEST+02:00
Experts at the nature reserve of Torbiere del Sebino, Lombardy, are being led on a wild goose chase by a suspected escaped panther that they have been pursuing without success for two weeks.

The lengthy and expensive pursuit of the invisible panther has exasperated the president of the park, Edilberto Rinaldi.

“I would have liked to go on holiday this weekend but I'm being held hostage by the panther! I'm getting 100 calls a day about it, I'm fed up with it,” Rinaldi told Corriere Della Sera.

The park was closed in July by the order of the regional prefect after a truck driver first saw the panther while filling up at a nearby Esso garage. The trucker described the beast as “a large feline with orange eyes”.

It was decided that the safest strategy was to close the park and members of the local, regional and military police forces alongside a team of vets were called in to organize a panther hunt.

The idea was simple: get forestry experts to lay traps in the woods, baited with delicious slices of steak. The traps were duly laid but strangely, the panther didn't bite.

The failure of the strategy led the experts to develop a startling new hypothesis about the panther: it is a vegetarian.

Most probably, experts argued, the panther had been raised illegally in captivity before being released into the wild. This meant it would have been reared on a diet of cat crunchies and explained why the traps had failed.

Vegetarian or not, the panther was still deemed to be too much of a public threat and the park remained closed while the search continued, involving hunting packs patrolling the most likely areas the panther would occupy.

So far, the two week search by the experts has turned up nothing but as word of the escaped panther has spread, sightings have multiplied.

There have now been 18 “confirmed” sightings of the panther around the local towns of Provaglio, Corte Franca and Iseo.

In addition to the confirmed sightings, the police have received hundreds of calls from local residents, all of which have proved to be nothing more than large black cats and dogs.

As the fear spreads, a strange sort of collective psychosis seems to be taking over the local towns.

Last week, the Mayor of Provaglio even cancelled a public reading of fairy tales for children in the town's central piazza for fear that the man-eater might pounce.

So far the closure of the reserve and the expensive search have cost the park over €10,000. This number looks set to rise.

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On Wednesday, a helicopter was dispatched after an anonymous phone call reported a sighting in the area. Needless to say, the helicopter didn't catch a glimpse of the big cat.

A press release from the park announced the park would remain closed at least until after this weekend's “Ferragosto” celebrations in Italy.

It's unlikely that will be enough time to catch the mythical panther, even if it does exist.

“We're getting phone calls from people who say they have seen something but for now it's not even certain we're looking for a panther,” an exasperated member of the police force in Provaglio told The Local. 

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