Black panthers do not exist as a species.
If you open any field guide to wild cats of the world, there will be no species as a “black panther”.
All of the large black cats you see on television and in zoos are black (melanistic) jaguars and leopards. They are not a separate species but a variant of those cats that show an overload of black pigment in sort of reverse fashion of albinism.
With that said, there are thousands of reports of “black panthers” in the United States.
Having investigated this phenomenon since the beginning of my career most who share a report assume what they saw was a black cougar (mountain lion).
The problem is there has never been a black cougar born in a zoo or captive setting (and there are thousands there), killed and brought in by a hunter or observed by a biologist.
There are some fake black cougar mounts out there including this one sent to us by researcher Todd Jurasek who saw it in Oklahoma. There are even taxidermists advertising dying cougars black but there are none in the wild to kill and mount.
As noted on my “Moore Outdoors’ program on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI all but two of the many photographs sent to me that were allegedly “black panthers” were feral house cats.
One of these cats was a jaguarundi and the other was a black bobcat.
Some of the photos were indeed big but they were of some domestic lineage.
I did an article for Texas Fish & Game in 2019 entitled Mystery Of The Black Longtail. In it I explained the name for these cats I gave them in my Field Guide To Texas Wild Cats book.
And I believe they are the source of the vast majority of “black panther” sightings.
I believe this for three key reasons.
- People Cannot Judge Size: I have received hundreds of photos of bobcats people sent to me thinking they were cougars. I have now come to the conclusion many cougar sightings in nontraditional habitat are bobcats. I have personally identified dozens of “black panther” sightings as domestic cats.
- Distribution: Feral house cats are distributed throughout North America, have large populations in many forested areas and are the only known black cat to dwell continent-wide. I have received multiple photos of readers wondering what kind of wild cat they captured on their game camera. It turned out they were white, tabby and other colored feral house cats. People are not prepared to see a feral cat in the woods but they are abundant. When they see a black one they often label it “panther”.
- New research in Australia, which has a massive feral cat problem suggests these cats are growing to much bigger sizes than anyone would expect. Recent stats attributed to Oklahoma wildlife officials state sizes of up to 35 pounds for feral cats.
The long tail on these cats intrigues me.
Many of these cat photos that have been sent to me have extra long tails. This is the photo sent to me five years ago that inspired the name “Black Longtail”. This is from Texas from a reader who wishes to remain anonymous.
The tail length of these cats is intriguing and matches some of the lengths of the extra large feral cats reported in Australia.
I got a photo myself recently in front of a hog trap I set in a woodlot near my home in Texas. Look at the length of the tail on this cat and the tall ears.
Interesting, isn’t it?
These animals having domestic origin does not make them less intriguing.
As noted on my radio broadcast I do not believe they are the total answer to America’s “black panther” phenomenon but I do believe they are the source of the vast majority of sightings.
Do you have photos of a mysterious black cat? I would love to see them.
I begrudge no one for making assumptions about their sightings. Not everyone is a wildlife expert and there are many voices on social media and in the blogosphere that are touting theories that make things confusing.
It’s hard to sort through all of the noise.
Submit photos to email@example.com. I would love to see them and share with our readers.
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