Residents of Palo Seco in southwest Trinidad are on the lookout for a jaguar, the third largest cat in the world, after a viral video about a dog being wounded by the deadly animal.
Up to Monday, the police could not confirm if jaguars were spotted in the community, particularly in forested areas at No 4 Road. No one reported seeing the animal to the police.
Santa Flora as well as South Western Division Task Force (SWDTF) police were trying to verify the information about this "roaming cat" that had possibly been smuggled from neighbouring Venezuela.
Newsday visited the community on Monday and interviewed several residents, including the owner of the dog that was wounded on Wednesday in its kennel.
The owner, who asked to remain unnamed, said she was not at home when the dog – Lucy – received a wound to its back early on Wednesday. She recalled that the dog was tied, and relatives heard it making noise.
They checked and saw Lucy had an injury. Someone was passing and reminded the family about the "set of animals like ocelots, jaguars and other wild cats" roaming in the bushes.
"Someone jumped up and said, it is one that bit the dog. I asked if they saw when it happened. They said no. No one saw what happened with the dog," she said.
"We keep hearing about a big cat by the river near the bridge. A boy said he was going to a shop and saw a big black cat with white eyes. We told him that it was maybe an ocelot."
The woman said people said they had seen the cats, and were running scared.
"I have not seen any wild cats, and I do not want to see anything, because I might freak out. I am afraid of the house cats."
The woman confirmed that the voice in the video was that of a relative who lived elsewhere.
Afisha La Mott, who lives further into the area, recalled a resident claiming to have seen a jaguar a few days ago.
Game wardens visited after word spread, but left empty-handed.
The mother of five said neither she nor other family members had seen any wild cats. She said she would believe it if she saw it.
The possibility of a jaguar being smuggled from the South American continent is possible, La Mott said, considering many Venezuelans frequent the area.
"I am frightened for my children, not for me. I stopped them from playing in the road and at the back of the house. I let them play in the front where I can see them," she said.
Asked what she would do if she came face to face with a jaguar, La Mott said she might defecate on herself.
"If it is really out there, I would be glad if they hold it," La Mott added.
One of the men who claimed to have seen the "big cat" is said to be an "addict."
The man spoke briefly to Newsday, saying he was digging yam and spotted the big cat. He also said he knows the type of food these animals eat. He refused to share any more information.
Instead, the bareback man removed a few ochros from his pants pockets and offered to sell them for $16.
Another resident, Wilfred Figaroux, said he had heard the rumour but had not seen any wild cats lurking.
Residents were seen walking in the streets, and while they heard about the big cats, they said they had not seen any.
The jaguar, not indigenous to TT, is the third largest cat after the lion and tiger.
Acting Cpl Bhagwandeen, PC Ragoonanan of the Santa Flora Police Station as well as PCs Mungal, Jagessar and Weston of the SWDTF were searching on Monday.
Like the police, Ricardo Meade, founder of the El Socorro Centre for Wildlife Conservation (ECWC), said the organisation had not received any report.
Instead, it too, found out about the rumours via social media.
"We have no photos or video of this animal. How come no one has been able to take a picture? We need proof of life. This looks suspicious. We have no concrete evidence.
"Understanding the animal we are dealing with, jaguars are third largest cats in the world and can weigh up to 350 pounds and grow about five-and-a-half feet long," Meade said.
"Because of its size and weight, it would leave prints everywhere. It has the most powerful bite and an interesting way of killing – biting through animals' skulls and crushing the brain. Most other cats go for the neck, where the jugular vein is."
He advised the public to alert the police if they spotted such an animal. Meade said the police, in turn, could alert all other relevant authorities.
Meade said for safety reasons, if a jaguar is spotted lurking, it should be put down.
He added that smuggling wildlife is not a good thing at all.
On May 31, the police got a tip-off and went to a location in northwest Trinidad, where they seized a jaguar cub and exotic birds from an abandoned campsite. The animals were believed to have been smuggled.
The cub was handed over to the Emperor Valley Zoo for safekeeping.
Anyone with information can call Santa Flora police at 649-5555 or the nearest police station.