Wildlife biologist Don McGowan can't tell those people what they saw, but he'd bet the creatures weren't panthers.
"We get a fair amount of calls reporting what I call 'big-cat sightings,' some black in color, some brown.
It seems like it runs in cycles and it runs in clusters.
I don't know if folks get it in their heads, or what happens," said McGowan, who works for the state Department of Natural Resources.
Panthers, also called mountain lions, pumas or cougars, don't live in Georgia, he
"In the wild, as far as native wild populations, we don't have any panthers or cougars.
They were here up until the early 1900s, but they've been gone since then," he
In the Southeast, the only population of cougars is a remnant group estimated at less than 100 animals in the Everglades region of South Florida.
What people have spotted could be a black bear or even a coyote, an increasingly common predator in Northeast Georgia.
Some coyotes are very dark, McGowan
The creature might even be a rare black bobcat, he
Even if cougars don't live in the wilds of Georgia, a big black cat still could be roaming the Athens area, McGowan
"You can never totally write it off," he
Big cats held in captivity sometimes manage to get free, he
Just last year, a hunter killed a cougar in West Georgia, he
pointed out - a captive cat that had escaped.
Death is often the fate of big cats that escape captivity, he
The cats are used to people, and often are run over by cars or shot.