A large cat — perhaps a bobcat or a lynx — has been on the loose in Islip Town for more than 24 hours as of Wednesday afternoon, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation and other agencies are investigating.
Central Islip resident Diane Huwer ran back into her house after spotting the animal when she stepped onto her porch to feed her outdoor cats Tuesday around 6:30 a.m.
The cat, crouched on the porch of Huwer’s Half Mile Road home, “scared the daylights out of me,” she said. The cat charged toward one of the feral outdoor cats Huwer cares for, but backed off after she yelled at it, she said. The animal nibbled on the cat food outside, which apparently wasn’t up to snuff.
Huwer snapped a photo of the mystery cat and posted it on Facebook, where it has been shared at least 2,000 times. The photo shows the cat, which is as large as a dog, sitting on the porch outside her door. She said her neighbors also spotted the animal on their porch as early as 4:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Experts agreed the feline was likely someone’s pet, even though owning one is illegal in New York.
The Suffolk County SPCA and Strong Island Animal Rescue League said the animal could be a bobcat or a serval. However, Luke Hunter, executive director of the Big Cat Program at the Wildlife Conservation Society, believes it is most likely a Eurasian lynx, a type of cat not native to the Americas. It is native to parts of Europe, Russia and Central Asia.
The Suffolk SPCA believes the cat is in the 40-pound range, said Roy Gross, the organization's chief. Eurasian lynxes can reach up to 60 pounds, but are typically in the 40- to 50-pound range, Hunter said. Male bobcats typically max out around 40 pounds, and servals only hit the mid-20-pound range.
Eurasian lynxes have distinctive black tufts at the tips of their ears, which is visible in Huwer’s photo. Their fur is spotted and commonly used in the fur trade. They are nocturnal in the wild and can cover up to 25 miles in a day, Hunter said.
The feline appeared skinny and hungry, Hunter said. In the wild, the cats prey on deer, but since this one was likely raised in captivity — commonly in the Great Lakes Region for fur — it might not be able to adequately fend for itself, he said.
A DEC environmental conservation police officer canvassed the area Tuesday but saw nothing, a DEC official said. The DEC is working with the Suffolk County SPCA to determine if trapping efforts should be considered.
Strong Island Animal Rescue League president Frank Floridia said the area of Central Islip where the cat was spotted by Huwer was near a wooded area, a pond and backyard chickens. Suffolk County police received a reported sighting of a cat around 10:40 a.m. Tuesday on Boulevard Avenue in West Islip — about eight miles from Huwer’s home.
It’s “absolutely physically possible” for a Eurasian llynx to travel that far in four hours, Hunter said. Although he would expect it to stick around the resources it found on Half Mile Road, it could be stressed and panicked, which could prompt it to stay on the move.
While Hunter said there were no reported cases of a Eurasian lynx killing a human, this cat’s temperament is unknown. Experts urged residents to keep children and pets inside, take a photo of the cat if possible and to call authorities if they spot the cat.
“These are wild animals, not the type of animals anyone should have,” Gross said. "They don’t belong in captivity this way.”
Strong Island Animal Rescue League can be reached at 631-403-0598. Suffolk County SPCA can be reached at 631-382-7722. The DEC Wildlife Unit may be reached at 631-444-0310 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.
With James Carbone and John Valenti