They might be being led on a wild cat chase but police in the Toulon region of the Riviera are taking no chances.
Officers have been forced to step up patrols and bring in helicopter support after several sightings of one or even two black panthers in recent days.
“The police are conducting patrols in the area and are waiting or the next sighting to trigger a helicopter search of the area,” the Var police chief announced this week.
Their searches are concentrated on the area between Toulon and the village of Revest-les-Eaux.
According to local newspaper Var Matin Jean-Pierre Georges, manager of the nearby Mont Faron Zoo, has not reported any escaped wild cats, but had studied tracks he believed were genuine.
“There is no doubt it is a cat, probably a black panther. This is because there are some easily identifiable tracks. Cats have retractable claws unlike dogs. The tracks I saw on the ground had no claw marks, only marks from the pads of the feet," he told Var Matin.
This is not the first time residents in the area have spotted a panther. In January police were forced to launch a similar cat hunt after a resident claimed to have seen the animal near the village of Villeneuve-Loubet. And in 2004 a search was organised around Marseille but no beast was ever found.
Not far from the recent panther sightings in the Var, police are also on the trail of an escaped brown bear that has so far given them the run around, despite being spotted several times.