Florida panther looks through window at home in Golden Gate Estates

GOLDEN GATE ESTATES, Fla. – A family living in Golden Gate Estates was shocked when a “lone” Florida panther peeked out their back door Sunday.

“Suddenly I have this intense feeling that something is watching me. Real quick, I look up, and there it is. Just looking down on me. It looked like it wanted some popcorn and was enjoying the movie,” said Vendela Harold, who saw the panther and took the camera from it.

The panther casually glanced at Harold and his family, along with his three dogs for a few minutes before moving on to other nearby areas.

The animal was seen at 12 Avenue Southwest.

“Oh yes, he welcomed me back for sure! He didn’t look cute and cuddly. It seemed that he wanted a snack. If he had been outside, I would have feared for my life,” Harold said.

According to the Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC), they are territorial and solitary unless a pair is mating or a female is raising kittens. Panthers are solitary and rarely seen by people.

“The first thing I would do is appreciate the moment. We don’t get as many opportunities to see these charismatic animals so close to home,” added Nora Demers, an associate professor of biology at Florida Gulf Coast University.

The animals typically live in undeveloped areas that are remote, and as the southern population grows, so does the risk of encountering a Florida panther, FWC says.

The National Wildlife Federation reports that Florida panthers are threatened with extinction. They also claim that the only place with wild Florida panthers is the southwestern tip of Florida.

RELATED STORY: Florida Panther struck by a driver in Immokalee

FWC claims that there has never been a verified panther attack in Florida.

The FWC also has seven helpful guidelines on how to live safely with panthers in Florida.

  • Be on the lookout from dusk to dawn, and whenever deer are active.
  • Keep Panther Prey Away
  • Keep pets safe
  • Keep domestic livestock safe
  • Landscaping for safety, removal of plants that deer like to eat, etc.
  • Consider other deterrents
  • Walk or bike with a friend

“You want to keep your animals under control. They are considered prey for panthers. Make your environment as healthy and safe as you can, too,” Demers said.

However, the Harold families’ three dogs run regularly on their property, and their land has not been fenced since they moved in less than 6 weeks ago.

“I was worried about my dogs. I have three dogs. I didn’t take them out for a few hours after that because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t in the way, and I was so happy to be outside and not in the fresh air,” Harold said.

The FWC also provides helpful information on what to do if you come across a Florida panther.

  • Dont run. This can make them want to chase you. Stand up and face the animal.
  • Pick up the little kids so they don’t panic and run. Try to do this without crouching or moving away from the panther.
  • Give the animal space, panthers will avoid confrontation. Give them a way to escape.
  • Do not crouch or stoop, this will make you look like a prey-sized animal.
  • Try to look bigger. She throws stones, waves her arms and speaks firmly out loud.
  • Defend yourself if attacked. Potential victims in western states have successfully defended themselves with rocks, jackets, garden tools, and their bare hands.

There were no injuries or altercations during this encounter.

The Harold family told NBC2 News that they plan to add more cameras to their property in case the Florida Panther returns.