Follow the ups and downs of Schenley Park's hilly trails and you'll come across a multitude of wildlife: squirrels and chipmunks, deer and ducks, and hundreds of other birds and animals.
But one animal you won't see – even though a well-loved hollow and bridge in Schenley Park are named after it – is the panther.
Panther Hollow in Schenley Park gets its name from the panthers that used to roam the hills and valleys of Pittsburgh. While they are now extinct in Pennsylvania – and the entire eastern part of the country – years ago they could be found throughout most of North and South America. With a range that used to stretch from northern Canada to the tip of Chile, the panther went by many names – cougar, puma, wildcat, catamount, mountain lion, or our favorite, deer tiger – depending on the country or region.
These big cats were imposing and powerful animals, often measuring up to three feet tall and eight feet long from the tip of their nose to the end of their tail. They had tawny beige coats, long black-tipped tails and small heads with rounded ears. They had powerful legs, capable of jumping 15 feet into the air, and an incredible horizontal leap of up to 40 feet. Considered ambush predators, they hunted between dusk and dawn, stalking their prey and often attacking from above or behind. Panthers that used to roam in Schenley Park were stealthy hunters, feeding primarily on deer but often making smaller mammals – such as coyotes, raccoons or porcupines – their dinner, too.
Panthers were considered a keystone predator because of the important part they played in the population of other animals in their habitat. Some wildlife biologists point to our region’s present-day overpopulation of deer as having its root in the extinction of the panther.
So, the next time you walk across the Panther Hollow Bridge to get a view of Schenley Park below, make sure to check out the panther statues that greet you at each end of the bridge. They give a glimpse of the formidable and powerful panthers that used to roam our city’s beautiful parks.