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Is the fisher a furry friend or foe to suburbia?

Officials said they have noticed a growing number of complaints from Capital District residents about an unusual animal scurrying in their yards and through their trees.

Some have thought the animal was black panther, but New York State Department of Environmental Conservation pathologist Ward Stone said the likelihood of black panthers in the area is extremely unlikely. Instead, he said, the animal being described is most likely a fisher, a medium-sized weasel-like animal.

"They tend to shy away from people as far as I know," said Ken Champagne, a Latham resident who said he is sure a fisher killed his pet bunnies and ripped their bodies apart. "If you're a cat or a rabbit or a chipmunk or a squirrel, you're dead meat."

Champagne and his family have raised a number of pet bunnies over the years. Champagne said he had housed the animals in an enclosure that would keep them safe from predators. He started out with a typical rabbit hutch, but the rabbits found a way to escape. Next, he built a small fence around the hutch with a little ramp and a doorway so that the bunnies could play in the fenced-off area.

"They decided to do their rabbit instinct, and they dug a hole in the ground," he said.

While Champagne worked on coming up with ways to keep the bunnies from running away, the animals faced other risks, including neighborhood dogs and other wild animals.

Champagne eventually built a 10-by-20-foot enclosure for the bunnies.

But last week, that enclosure proved insufficient.

Champagne said his wife noticed an animal (which she later looked up on the Internet and determined to be a fisher) poking around the enclosure.

"She saw this fisher in the bunny enclosure," Champagne said. "My wife went over to the bunny enclosure screaming at it, and it decided to take off and all was well for that day."

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