Photos released Tuesday afternoon show the trackings investigators found on an East Hampton farm after , or similar type of exotic cat, on Sunday, but they are likely not that of a jaguar — but perhaps a large fox.
The State Department of Environmental Conservation received a call on Wednesday morning about a fox the caller almost had mistaken for an exotic cat, seen in the area in Montauk.
DEC spokesman Bill Fonda said the caller, whose name he did not release, reported seeing an animal, reddish in color around the head, with a greyish-color on the back. "He too thought it was a cat at first, but he said it's definitely a fox," Fonda said, adding that he passed the information onto to the environmental conservation officers and the DEC's wildlife unit.
The caller also said the fox looked to be having some type of issue with its fur.
Fonda noted the photograph taken of tracks on a Spring Close Lane farm on Sunday, after the farmer reported seeing a jaguar, could possibly belong to a fox.
The photos show nail markings from the animal's claws. "With those claw marks being as visible in those photos as they are, cats - probably with the exception of cheetahs - they don't typically have their claws showing," Fonda said.
The farmer also reported seeing a long tail — which foxes have, he said.
"When you're seeing things for just a second . . . people could mistaken them for something else," Fonda said.
Larry Penny, the longtime director of the town's Natural Resources department who retired in March, said it's possible the jaguar-sighting was really that of a grey fox. "Grey foxes are very cat-like. But we don't have many grey foxes on Long Island," he said.
In fact, staff at in Hampton Bays said they haven't dealt with any — only red foxes.
Penny said he has heard many reports of odd animal sightings on the South Fork over the years — a black panther on North Haven, a kangaroo on Route 114, an Emu, and many reports of bobcats and mountain lions. He doesn't recall any reports panning out. "Unless it was a really good story, I didn't take any notes," he said.
Reports of a mountain lion roaming East Quogue in 2011 went unsubstantiated. The DEC determined casting taken of the animal's paw prints were that of a dog, according to an article on 27East.
Augie Frati, a volunteer there and the husband of executive director Ginnie Frati, said on Tuesday that a jaguar, "would be unusual, but not impossible."
According to National Geographic, jaguars were once found from the southern tip of South America north to the area around the U.S.-Mexico border. Jaguars are primarily found in remote regions of South and Central America.
"If it's a true sighting of an exotic cat, it's more than likely somebody had it in captivity," Frati said. "I don't know why they would even think of doing this. These animals don't belong as pets."
In fact, a bobcat, that had been someone's pet, now lives at the because it couldn't be returned to the wild as its previous owner had declawed her.
Cathy Hansen, of Amagansett, who spent six years working for a vet who worked on exotic animals from mountain lions to tigers, said, "People not familiar with exotic felines and canines certainly could mistake a fox for a jaguar but that would be one seriously large fox."
The description provided to ECO officers on Sunday was an animal five feet long and two feet high at the shoulder. "I live in in Amagansett and see fox often but have never seen one so big I would mistake it for a big cat, plus fox really do have bushy tails, whereas cats do not."
Based on the photograph on the track mark, she wondered if it could belong to a wolf. "Wolves and wolf/dog hybrids do have this type of paw print ... Mind you many people have these hybrid wolves as pets."