Tracker Shane Hobel Speaks at Panther Party

A number of Palisadians attended a Panther Party at the Community Center on the afternoon of Saturday, May 2. After sampling wine and cheese, they heard from four of the ten people who have actually seen a panther in this area and then from tracker Shane Hobel, founder of the Mountain Scout Survival School in Beacon, New York.

Shelly Cohen, the first person to encounter a panther, observed one of the felines in Tallman Park in February. Jane Bernick, the next witness, described watching the black panthers for 15 minutes on March 6 from her kitchen window at the top of the Lamont hill. Her neighbor Grace Knowlton saw one panther on March 14. And on March 17 Dorian Tunnell and his son were riding their bikes into Tallman Park from Woods Road when they heard a thrashing in the bushes ahead and realized it was coming from two black panthers. Milbry Polk saw a panther in her driveway on March 27 but could not attend the party.

Shane "White Feather" Hobel first came on the scene after Milbry’s sighting and has volunteered his services to help clear up the mystery of what these animals actually are. Shane, who is dark haired, slender and obviously very fit, has a fascinating background. He studied with the world famous tracker Tom Brown Jr., obtaining many certificates at his Tracker School, and is a member of Tom Brown Jr.’s five-man Tracker SFI team (Search, Forensic, Investigation)*. Shane is also an instructor of Martial Arts and holder of a 5th degree black belt. Besides a 20-year career of teaching outdoor education, Shane worked as a stunt man for 16 years and still occasionally works in the movie industry. In 2008 he started his own school in Beacon, feeling a moral responsibility to pass his knowledge and his philosophy on to others.

Shane began by explaining some of the things that can be learned from a human or animal track. He told us that there are 4750 variations of the human foot track alone, and that a tremendous amount of information about a person — internally as well as externally — can be learned from that track. Nothing can move in nature without disturbing something else, and the experienced tracker can see many things invisible to the ordinary observer. Unfortunately, good tracks only exist 15 to 20% of the time. Shane took us outside to the back yard of the Community Center, where he showed us almost invisible tracks made by adult deer, a fawn, squirrels, and a possum.

While inside the building, he laid out pictures showing tracks he believes came from the mysterious feline, which he said was not a cougar — the tracks are different — and clearly not a dog. He believes that one four-inch track was made by the left front paw of a male feline weighing about 120 pounds and perhaps two to three years old. Shane also had pictures of a scratch mark 21 inches long made by one claw of the animal in a tree trunk near the last Palisades sighting, that of Ben Bonart, who lives on the Lamont hill and saw one panther on April 8. Shane was at the scene a few hours later. He collected scat, fur and other evidence from the area near Ben’s house and from the area behind Milbry’s house. Other evidence behind Milbry’s house came from a deer carcass ripped to shreds, but not by a coyote. Although test results from this material are not yet available, Shane suspects that the animals are jaguars or other felines illegally imported and released into our area sometime last winter.

A small group of fascinated party-goers was still listening to Shane in the back yard of the Community Center when the party ended. We all learned something about nature, as well as about the panthers on Saturday afternoon and are grateful to Shane for our new knowledge. He may return to teach a wilderness workshop at the Community Center sometime in the future — Carol Baxter will let everyone know if and when this happens. For more information about Shane’s Mountain Scout Survival School and the courses it offers log onto www.Mt.Scout

*Tracker Search and Forensic Investigation (SFI) is an organization founded by Tom Brown Jr., a renowned tracker and instructor of survival and tracking, and incorporated in 2007. Tom, who has been tracking since the age of 7, learned how to track from an Apache elder in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. Apache scouts developed a unique style of tracking which has become known as the “pressure release” system. By observing tracks in this manner, the Apache became masters of the art of tracking, able to track the smallest animals over the most difficult terrain. Tom Brown has been teaching and utilizing this technique for over four decades. He has provided services for hundreds of tracking cases involving lost individuals and the apprehension of criminals.

His aspiration has been to have teams of well-trained trackers positioned around the country to assist in the recovery of lost children and adults. Tracker SFI was founded to achieve this goal and to improve the scope of training in tracking that is available to law enforcement, military and search and rescue professionals

Tracking services offered by Tracker SFI are provided free of charge. They are there in times of emergency to assist families, local law enforcement and search and rescue units to work toward the best possible outcome in any situation. Their organization is supported totally from fees charged for training services and through donations. If you would like to make a donation, please send it to:

Tracker SFI
PO Box 37
Waretown, NJ 08758

Make checks payable to: Tracker SFI.