BIG CYPRESS (FOX 13) - While he was hunting deer in the Bear Island area of the Big Cypress National Preserve, Fred Lehman captured a rare sight.
Dressed head-to-toe in camouflage, Lehman was quietly waiting for a potential target. Instead, a very large cat strolled by, seeming not to notice human presence.
The cat appears to be a Florida panther, and a large one, at that.
Lehman said he has never seen a live panther up close, so he reached for his phone to document the moment.
That’s when the panther seemed to notice his movement and stopped to look before running away.
Lehman said he was in a spot about 20 miles off any paved road. The panther, however, was only about three yards away.
Lehman estimated the panther was about 4-feet from head to the base of its tail.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Florida panthers are the larger of Florida’s two native cat species, the other being bobcats.
Panthers are usually found south of Lake Okeechobee but can be found further north on rare occasions.
Panthers are listed as an Endangered Species under the Endangered Species Act. FWC says there are approximately 120-230 adult panthers in the population.
Lehman said in spite of hoping to spot deer on his trip, but leaving without one, he was satisfied to have spotted the panther and capture video to show to family and friends.
Lehman noted he has a special permit which allows him to hunt deer in the national preserve.