Whether you live in a city or in the suburbs, it can be easy to forget that animals are almost always somewhere nearby. No matter what part of the world you live in, the critters native to that region have been there long before you—and it’s inevitable that you’ll run into them at some point.
Florida resident Phil Hendra was reminded of this fact one day when he got a surprise visit from a truly shocking guest on his front porch. He could not process that what he was seeing could possibly be real… and you’re about to see why.
On March 18, 2016, Florida resident Phil Hendra had been enjoying a relatively lovely day. He and his three children—who ranged in age from six to 12—were visiting his father in East Fort Myers. It had all the makings of a pleasant day with family, but Phil was in for a huge surprise!
Phil Hendra / Facebook
While the whole family was spending time together inside of Phil’s parents’ house, Phil’s son, Philip Jr., noticed what he called a “funny dog” outside. Curious, Phil decided to get a look at the creature for himself. When he saw it, however, he nearly had a heart attack.
Once he took a peek outside, his jaw hit the floor. This was no dog at all—it was some kind of cat. And it was a big one. Phil backed away so he could grab his camera; he needed to capture the crazy encounter and share it with the world. That was when he soon learned was that this was no ordinary cat…
In fact, it was Florida panther! This type of big cat is native to Florida, and while panthers try not to interact with humans, they’re known to wander onto properties—especially if the homeowners have small pets.
Phil thought he was safe behind the door of his parents’ home, so he kept snapping photos of the animal. That was when the noise from his camera caught the panther’s attention—and he panicked. The last thing he wanted to do was to make himself known in any way that could be perceived as threatening!
Florida panthers can grow up to seven feet long and they’re as predatory as any other big cat species. They are also definitely not to be messed with. So, how did this porch-dwelling panther react to her unwanted paparazzo?
Thankfully, the panther didn’t seem bothered. In fact, she hunkered down on the porch and stayed for about another 20 minutes. Why she chose this particular spot was anyone’s guess. Maybe she just appreciated the view?
Then, just as suddenly as she appeared, the panther bid adieu and fled the porch—much to Phil’s relief. He called the sighting a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.” Luckily, the family was fortunate that Phil had his camera ready to share it with the world!
Still, for all this Florida family knew, the surprisingly affable feline predator could be lurking around the neighborhood in search of something easy to catch—like a cat or small dog.
Though the wild feline that made an appearance on Phil’s parents’ porch was known as a Florida panther, it would be more specific to call her a cougar. She certainly was an impressive animal.
That’s because Florida panther earned the distinction of being named Florida’s state animal in 1982. Still, they are currently listed as “critically endangered” according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s “Red List.”
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Southeast Region / Wikimedia Commons
In 2013, researchers filed reports stating that there were just 160 Florida panthers living in the wild. While this seems like a pretty small number, it’s much higher than it was in the 1970s, when only 20 were thought to be living outside of captivity!
While Floridians are no strangers to wildlife, the experience that Phil was able to capture on camera was very rare. Even so, he was far from the only person to have a startling run-in with a big cat…
Eric Kilby / Flickr
Take this cyclist, for example. While on a scenic—yet otherwise ordinary—bike ride through the country in October 2015, he saw something partially obscured waiting in the tall grass…
If it wasn’t for the fact that the mysterious silhouette had started inching towards him, the cyclist may have never realized that he was in any sort of danger or that the creature was there in the first place!
That was when he realized that he was in the presence of a large mountain lion—also known as a puma or cougar, just like the animal Phil and his family spotted on their front porch in Florida.
Unlike Phil, who was able to easily observe the animal from the safety of his father’s house, this cyclist was right out in the open. He had nowhere to hide, and trying to flee might have prompted the mountain lion to give chase.
The mountain lion even started to let out a few low, intimidating growls, making no attempt to hide the fact that he meant business. In response, the unnamed cyclist tried making some loud noises in an attempt to drive the big cat away.
After that, the cyclist doubled down on his attempts to show confidence, going so far as to imitate the noises the mountain lion was making. Yet that only seemed to make the predator angrier as his growls transformed into aggressive snarls!
Thankfully, the cat seemed to realize he was no match for the cyclist, and he turned tail and left. Just watch what this cyclist did in order to scare away the threatening mountain lion!
It’s really rare to spot a panther in the wild, let alone on your front porch! One thing we should always remember is that these animals were here first, and we should respect them—from a safe distance.
Share these wild encounters with your friends below!