Woman encounters rare “big cat” in Baton Rouge backyard

BATON ROUGE — A woman looking out her window into her backyard last Thursday noticed an animal that doesn’t usually roam around in Louisiana yards.

Juanika Cheree Daniels-Benoit said her mother, who lives in a neighborhood off Plank Road near Blount Road, noticed an animal that she thought looked like a dog at first, but after trying to startle the animal, she realized it was something different.

“She hit her glass, and it didn’t move,” Daniels-Benoit recalled. “It didn’t startle and run off, so she hit it again. It stood up, and then she said, ‘That’s not a dog.’ Then she noticed it wasn’t a regular cat, and she ran to get her cameras.”

Daniels-Benoit said her mother took photos of the animal and reached out to the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the Baton Rouge Zoo to see if someone could go and get the animal.

Neither entity could confirm what kind of big cat it was, and they told the woman she would have to hire someone to capture the animal.

“Her objective was to let the older people know because it’s mostly old people in this neighborhood with grandkids or something like that,” Daniels-Benoit said. “She wanted them (neighbors) to be on the lookout or whatever. She called her immediate neighbors that night to let them know.”

Nuisance Wildlife Control Operators are licensed by Wildlife and Fisheries and specialize in capturing certain wild animals. Wildlife and Fisheries has a list of operators on its website.

The operators obtain several certifications. They aren’t paid through Wildlife and Fisheries. The homeowner or business owner pays them.

Jay Lapeyrouse is the nuisance wildlife control operator who spoke with Daniels-Benoit’s mother. He said he told the woman it’s unlikely she’ll see that cat again. He services Ascension, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Livingston, St. Helena and West Feliciana Parishes.

He specializes in alligators, armadillos, beavers, bobcats, coyotes, feral hogs, foxes, minks, nutrias, opossums, otters, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, snakes and squirrels.

“You better go get a Powerball if you think you’re going to see that cat again,” Lapeyrouse said. “This is not the right habitat for them. There are plenty in Texas, but the Louisiana habitat has not been the best for them. If it was truly a big cat, they’re so reclusive, and they’re not gonna see him again.”

Lapeyrouse said the only way the woman would see the animal again is if she had a specific food source the cat was interested in, such as pets, chickens and ducks.

Lapeyrouse’s message to everyone was not to make a nuisance animal situation worse.

“The one thing people need to know is don’t feed wild animals,” he noted. “It always ends up bad for the animal.”

He added animals like this usually follow a river or water source for food and by now, it’s long gone from the backyard.

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