FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) - An animal believed to be a bobcat dropped down from a tree and attacked a couple out on their typical early morning walk Friday in a dense, urban part of South Florida, authorities said.
Wildlife experts said bobcats are quite common in urban areas although most people never see them - and attacks on people are exceedingly rare, especially in heavily populated areas.
"I have never heard of anything like this," said Carole Baskin, founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, which currently houses 20 bobcats among its many other animals. "Any wild bobcat is not going to walk up to a human. They are extremely shy."
Lauderhill Fire Rescue Capt. Jerry Gonzalez said the attack happened around 6:15 a.m. in a brushy area near the couple's apartment. The Sun Sentinel reports that the husband and wife, 71-year-old Rupert Fray and 85-year-old Eslyn Fray, were both hospitalized. Officials say they're in fair condition.
Lauderhill police issued a warning for people in the Fort Lauderdale suburb to be aware of the situation and not to approach the animal if encountered.
"The animal involved in the attack is still on the loose. Officials are still combing the area in search of it," the police statement said.
"The husband says a bobcat came out of the bushes and attacked his wife," Gonzalez said. "She has multiple injuries to her face and arms, some serious bleeding. He also suffered an injury while trying to protect her."
One neighbor, Veronica Wong, told news outlets she was among the first to find the injured couple.
"I saw a lot of blood," Wong said. "She was sitting down and I asked her, 'What happened?' and she said, 'Bobcat.'"
Bobcats are common throughout North America. They typically weigh between 25 and 35 pounds (11 to 15 kilograms) and generally are solitary animals, experts say. They are recognizable by their tufted ears, spotted coats and short tails.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and other agencies are investigating. FWC spokeswoman Carollyn Parrish said attacks on humans by bobcats are highly unusual.
"I know it is not common," she said.
Still, Big Cat Rescue's Baskin said people even in urban areas have no idea that bobcats live among them. Apartment complexes, she said, are especially enticing to the cats because of all the trash in outside receptacles that attracts rats and other rodents - their favorite food.
"They are doing a huge service for us. They do it quietly and secretly," Baskin said. "They are there, you just never see them."