‘Black panthers’ spotted on the French Riviera

Police on the French Riviera are hunting one or even two black panthers after several reported sightings of the wild cat in recent days. The alert comes as authorities in the south of France are still trying to track down a fugitive brown bear.

'Black panthers' spotted on the French Riviera
File photo of a black panther. (Not the one claimed to have been seen in southern France) Photo: LaggedOnUser/Flickr

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.

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Toulon’s Wilkinson announces retirement

Jonny Wilkinson announced on Monday that he will retire from rugby after Toulon's European and French Cup finals. Wilkinson thanked his French fans in Toulon for all the support they had given him over the years.

Toulon's Wilkinson announces retirement
Jonny Wilkinson will retire from rugby after his Toulon side play their last two matches of the season. Photo: AFP

"I would like to take this opportunity to formally announce my retirement from playing rugby," Wilkinson 34-year-old said in a statement.

"I have an enormous number of people to thank for their support from all around the world but especially here in France and in England," Wilkinson said,

"This however is not at all the time to be concentrating on this as I would like to focus all my attention and energy on the team and these final two games of the season," Wilkinson said.

On Szturday Wilinson scored 11 points to help guide his Toulon team into the final of the Top 14 final, where they will play Castres. 

On May 24th Wilkinson and his side will line up against English side Saracens in the European Cup Final in Cardiff.

The fly-half, most famous for winning the 2003 World Cup for England with an extra-time drop goal against Australia, only ever played for two clubs during his career, joining big-spending Toulon from Newcastle in 2009.

He played an integral part in Toulon's rise to the pinnacle of French rugby, but at 34 years old his retirement at the end of the season had been widely expected.

Wilkinson won 91 caps for England, and played in a second World Cup final in 2007 when they were beaten 15-6 by South Africa, scoring a total of 1,246 points, second only in the world to All Black Dan Carter.

He was part of four Six Nations title wins for England with the peak being a Grand Slam in 2003, the same year England won the World Cup 20-17 in Sydney.

He also won six caps for the British and Irish Lions, but retired from international rugby in December 2011 to concentrate on playing for Toulon.

Wilkinson's distintive kicking style brought him great success and set a new benchmark in rugby which subsequently has been followed by a new generation of place-kickers.