Not a Tiger, or a Panther

    The panther-like creature spotted eating composted scraps at the Spring Close Farm in East Hampton on Sunday was probably a dog or fox, according to the State Department of Environmental Conservation, whose officers examined paw prints attributed to the animal.
    The animal was observed by Michael Lester on land on Spring Close Highway leased by Lester Farms from Mike Bistrian. Mr. Lester told investigators he saw a cat-like creature at about 11 a.m. on Sunday. He described it as being about five feet long and two feet high at the shoulder, with a long, striped tail. It was eating composted vegetables and meat scraps. The animal fled into the brush upon his arrival, Mr. Lester said.
    “There was not sufficient evidence of a cougar, panther, jaguar, or similar exotic cat in the area,” a D.E.C. press release stated. Investigators examined paw prints that included claw marks. “Cats have retractable claws, so they typically don’t leave claw marks when they walk,” the D.E.C. reported stated. 
    The D.E.C.’s wildlife staff also did a search of their special license database for all types of exotic cats and no listings came up for anybody nearby licensed to possess such animals.
    Could the prints be attributable to the first ever South Fork sighting of a coyote? It is a possibility, according to Mike Bottini, a wildlife biologist. “But it would have had to pass through Queens and the length of Long Island without being seen.”
    Mr. Bottini said the description of a “striped tail” made him think it could have been a gray fox, although the paw print was too large.