Sightings of “black panthers” are common in the United States, especially in Texas and the Southeastern region.
The problem as I covered in part 1 of this series is that there is no such species as a “black panther” anywhere in the world.
What about the large black cats seen in zoos and on television programs? Those are black leopards or black jaguars.
Melanism occurs when an excessive amount of black pigment dominates coloration of an animal. It happens in many animals ranging from squirrels to whitetail deer. Melanism is not uncommon in leopards in certain parts of their range. This is also true with jaguars. The black cats you see in zoos and on television are all melanistic leopards or jaguars.
The general assumption with “black panther” sightings in America is that these are black or melanistic cougars. The problem is there has never been a melanistic cougar observed by science either in a zoo, captive setting, killed by a hunter, mounted by a taxidermist or otherwise positively identified.
For melanistic cougars to be the answer to America’s “panther” question there would have to be many of them, and there is no proof of any of them.
Jaguars, however, do throw melanistic offspring and are native to Texas, western Louisiana, New Mexico, Arizona and California. They were wiped out north of Mexico more than 100 years ago, but a few individuals have been verified moving in and out of New Mexico and Arizona. And over the years, I have fielded three Texas jaguars reports I believe, two right on the Mexico line and one about 100 miles north of it.
Recent research shows that melanism is a dominant trait in jaguars. In other words, if a male jaguar for example moves into an area and starts breeding females there is a good chance much of the offspring will be melanistic as well.
Could a remnant population of jaguars survive that has the dominant melanistic genes? There is no way that’s an answer for the entire “black panther” phenomenon, but it is not out of the range of possibility for some of the sightings reported throughout the years.
It’s unlikely but within the realm of possibility.
Melanism is also present, albeit rare, in bobcats.
Melanistic bobcats have been killed and mounted in Texas. In fact, one by taxidermist Steve Moye was mounted leaping at a quail and hung in the Gander Mountain sporting goods store in Beaumont, Texas for the better part of a decade.
My experience shows that many people cannot differentiate between a bobcat and a cougar. Many are surprised that bobcats have tails at all. In fact some have tails as long as eight inches. A black bobcat could easily be labeled a “black panther” by someone who is not aware of melanism in the species.
In fact, I was sent a photo of a black bobcat back in 2011 that the reader believed was a “panther”.
I fault no one for not properly identifying animals or having questions. I consider it an honor and a privilege to get to check out the hundreds of photos sent my direction. But my conclusion is people have a very hard time identifying cats in the wild.
Besides people who don’t understand basic animal identification, the biggest problem in misidentifying cougars and bobcats is scale. A large bobcat seen at a distance with nothing to compare it to, looks much larger than it really is.
The jaguarundi is another prime candidate for “black panther” sightings. A large jaguarundi in the common dark gray or chocolate brown phase, crossing a road in front of a motorist or appearing before an unsuspecting hunter could easily be labeled a “black panther.”
Because very few people are aware of jaguarundis, it’s highly unlikely they would report seeing one. Everyone can relate to a “black panther” and virtually no one has ever heard of a jaguarundi.
These cats are native to Texas (and all the way south into South America) but there has been no verified sighting in years. I do believe as some research suggests, there are isolated pockets of them north of their currently accepted range.
Is the jaguarundi responsible for many “black panther” reports in the United States?
Are they the source of some sightings?
I have no doubt.
Some suggest the “black panther” sightings are the result of a “circus train” crash where its animals got loose. This story has been repeated over and over in Texas, and throughout the South with exact locations changing with the retelling.
I find no evidence of this.
If black leopards were to escape, the chance of them surviving and producing offspring wide-ranging enough for a phenomenon like this to take place is beyond far-fetched.
Additionally, why would only black leopards escape? Where are the lions, tigers and elephants?
Considering the bulk of a wild cat’s hunting skills are taught, this is not even remotely likely.
There is no way there are hundreds, if not thousands of black leopards running around the country due to a circus train crash. So far, all intensive re-wilding efforts of tigers have failed so how could circus leopards escape, survive and create a nation-wide population?
Isolated cases of exotic cats escaping have occurred, but in my opinion they are not the source of many sightings in Texas or at any other location in North America.
In my opinion the majority of these black panther these black longtails of domestic lineage discussed in part 1 of the series, standard cougars seen in low light conditions, black bobcats (because we have proof they exist), jaguarundis in parts of their historical range and I even leave the door open for a few of them even being jaguars.
The thing people have to consider is we are dealing with cats, not some creature with unknown abilities.
I have personally been sent hundreds of game camera photos of bobcats. Cougars which are one of the planet’s most elusive animals show up on game cameras in the American West all the time and even super rare and shy animals like snow leopards are common on these cameras set by researchers.
So, if these mysterious cats are all either black cougars or black jaguars why does no one get a clear daytime trail camera photo or even a clear night shot? The same exact areas have cameras getting pictures of bobcats and standard cougars so why are the black ones so elusive?
I don’t believe they are.
I believe the main answer is the “black longtail” of very domestic lineage discussed in part 1 of the series. I have seen many of these photos and even captured one on camera myself.
It’s not an exciting answer if you want this mysterious cat to be something more grand than a feral and perhaps even evolving version of Felis catus but in my opinion it is the clear answer for a vast majority of sightings.
Something else to ponder there are “black panther” sightings throughout the UK, in Australia and other areas with no indigenous leopards or jaguars.
Ask yourself what cat is very common in these areas that is commonly black?
Yep, Felis catus.
I will be doing more features on this topic and communicating with biologists and genetic experts on how feral cats in the wild might be adapting and changing in ways that makes them as wild as any leopard.
In this episode of Higher Calling Wildlife on the Waypoint Podcast Network, host Chester Moore and hog expert Jeff Stewart analyze a 2021 hog attack after Chester interviews the survivor who tells a terrifying story of his near-death encounter.
Higher Calling Wildlife founder Chester Moore won big at the Press Club of Southeast Texas Excellence In Media awards.
He won the following categories:
*First place for podcast for “Higher Calling Wildlife”
*First place for Talk Show for “Moore Outdoors” on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI. This episode featured a discussion on bonefish and tarpon with Dr. Aaron Adams of the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust.
*First place for Investigative Radio program for “Moore Outdoors” on Newtalk AM 560 KLVI “Mysterious Horse Killings” program*
*First place for Column in the open category for Editor’s Notes at Texas Fish & Game
*First place for Radio Public Service Announcement for The Wildlife Journalist Gulf of Mexico Marine Mammals clip.
*First place for individual social media for his Instagram feed @thechestermoore.
He also placed in environmental article category for two articles-one on wild sheep’s disease issue with domestic sheep for Hunter’s Horn from the Houston Safari Club Foundation and another here Higher Calling Wildlife on the reason Texas no longer has native cutthroat trout.
On Sept. 4, visitors to a popular Canadian hiking trail found the body of a young (154 pound) grizzly bear.
According to an article at livescience.com, park rangers airlifted the carcass so it did not attract predators to the popular trail and to ascertain the cause of death.
Wounds around the neck and armpit at first confused officials.
A necropsy, however, revealed the culprit.
“The forensic necropsy subsequently confirmed that the wounds incurred before death were consistent with the size and shape of mountain goat horns,” David Laskin, a wildlife ecologist at Parks Canada, told local news outlet Rocky Mountain Outlook.
So, a mountain goat killed a grizzly.
When attending my first-ever journalism class in high school, I remember hearing, “Dog bites man is not a story. Man bites dog is the story you’re looking for.”
Well, mountain goat kills grizzly is that kind of story.
Yes, it was not a full-grown grizzly, and a 154-pound female was probably a year-old cub.
But even at that size, they are formidable predators.
While the size of the goat implicated in this interesting predator-prey scenario has not been determined, a mature billy can weigh as much as 300 pounds.
These are big, strong, incredibly agile animals that can flee or fight.
“Regarding the recent article about the mountain goat potentially injuring and killing a grizzly…that’s something you don’t hear about every day,'” said Lee MacDonalds, Operations Coordinator with the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance (RMGA).
“I think the takeaway from that article and information from the biologists is that mountain goats (like any large animal, not just predators) have the potential to injure and even kill human-size animals.”
RMGA’s mission is to conserve mountain goat populations and educate the public about these beautiful and unique animals.
“Every year, there are reports of large ungulates in parks injuring humans when they push too close and prompt a defense response. Mountain goats are no different and should be respected,’ MacDonalds said.
“Here in Montana, we have partnered with Montana, Fish Wildlife & Parks, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to have laminated signs at trailheads in mountain goat areas, helping to warn people not to approach them should they run into one. “
Along with wild sheep, mountain goats represent the best of the American West’s wildlife.
Able to live at the highest elevations and easily move across rocky terrain that few can navigate, they are creatures worthy of our admiration.
And any ungulate that can kill a grizzly in defense is worthy of our respect.
It’s great that a group like RMGA exists to forward the cause of mountain goat conservation.
And this story getting out is a good thing as well.
Maybe it will remind hikers, campers, and others who too often view wild animals on public land as wayward pets to give mountain goats a wide berth.
They might not take too kindly to any attempt to take a selfie with them.
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Southern Nevada in particular is in the grips of one of the worst droughts in decades, along with much of the Western United States.
While researching the drought for a series of articles on about its impact on wildlife, I noticed something.
The area I photographed this beautiful desert bighorn in Jan. 2020 for our Sheep Scrapbook Project was facing some of the worse conditions. Having a love for that part of the world, I dug deeper.
What I found out is the drought conditions are so bad in fact, officials with the Nevada Department of Wildlife are dropping water from helicopters to “guzzlers” set in the desert for bighorns and other wildlife.
Guzzlers collect water from rain and concentrate it in a water trough for animals to use during particularly arid conditions.
The following are my questions about the project and answers from Doug Nielsen, Public Affairs/Conservation Education Supervisor with the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
(Chester Moore) How much water was brought to the guzzlers?
(Doug Nielsen) Between June 2 and July 14, the department hauled 71,846 gallons of water to 20 different water developments or guzzlers. Most of those are in the extreme Southern Nevada area, but a couple are near Tonopah in the Central part of the state. In 2020, that number was 167,000 gallons and it was distributed among 30 guzzlers.
How was the water put into the individual guzzlers?
Basically, the water is ferried by helicopters using a Bambi Bucket like those used to fight wildland fires. The helicopter pilot dips the bucket into a portable water storage tank and then flies the water into the remotely located guzzler. At the guzzler, the pilot drops the water into a fol-da-tank and from there it is pumped into the storage tank of the guzzler. In past years the water was dropped onto an apron, but this new method saves water and is much more efficient.
How many sheep in the area could potentially be impacted?
The hardest hit area at the time was the Muddy Mountain-Black Mountain complex. Between the two ranges there are approximately 900 sheep, the largest concentration of sheep in the state.
How does this drought compare to the 1996 drought there and the ones in 01-02 timeframe?
I spoke with Pat Cummings, field biologist in the Southern Region, and he said the two years of severe back-to-back drought are far worse than that of 1996. We had no monsoonal weather flow in 2019 or 2020, and any other rain storms were almost nonexistent. Though we had some monsoonal moisture in July, he said it is premature to consider Southern Nevada as being out of the drought. Some recharge of the water developments and springs has taken place, but there are still areas of significant concern. Those include the Hiko, Specter, Bare and McCullough mountain ranges.
In 2020 we went 240 days without measurable precipitation. So far in 2021, we have had only 13 days with rain and 2.8 inches of rain.
(Thanks to Doug for providing us with the great information and photos.)
This is truly a monumental conservation effort and if the drought in Nevada continues, more water drops will certainly be necessary. Desert bighorns can drink up to a gallon a day and then you factor in other wildlife’s water demands and you can see the tremendous problem drought is causing in the wild lands of the American west.
The Nevada Department of Wildlife is doing all they can to conserve wild sheep under these challenging conditions as are other states facing similar scenarios.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
That quote from Charles Dickens “A Tale of Two Cities” reflects how I feel about 2020 on a personal level as well as simply being a human on Planet Earth at this very moment.
COVID-19’s impact on our world has been nothing short of historic and there is more to come. I wish I could give a prediction of a quick deliverance from this pestilence along with its human and economic cost but I would be lying.
Early into the pandemic, I explained how it would impact wildlife with everything from poaching running rampant in Africa where science-based, legal hunting and ecotourism were shut down to important wildlife surveys in America being cancelled.
All of that has happened and we will continue our coverage on that topic in 2021.
The business that I work in, the hunting/fishing/wildlife media industry has been ravaged by COVID-19’s economic impact. I’m putting my trust in God for finances going into a new year because things are not looking bright otherwise.
And I knew this would happen the moment I read the word “pandemic” in a World Health Organization Report.
That inspired action.
I don’t do what I do professionally for the great money, because I could make more elsewhere. I don’t do it for the accolades, nor for the fringe benefits of wildlife recreation access although that at times has been abundant.
I do it because I believe in it. Wildlife has been a passion of mine since childhood. A couple of years back my mother found a report from my fourth grade where I said I wanted to be someone who helps endangered wildlife when I grew up.
This is in me.
And it is why me and my wife Lisa founded Higher Calling Wildlife this year. I needed something that could function under a business model of low cost and high effectiveness.
By using investigative journalism and cutting-edge educational strategies, the mission of Higher Calling Wildlife is to raise awareness to mountain and forest wildlife conservation and stream fisheries. It’s free to join (and you can do that by clicking here) and it involves young people.
Me and my wife Lisa have a ministry called Kingdom Zoo Wildlife Center and its offshoot the Wild Wishes program. Wild Wishes grants wildlife encounters to children with a critical illness or loss of a parent or sibling. To date we’ve granted 112 wishes ranging from encounters with wolves to giraffes and special days at our small zoological facility.
Teens from the Wild Wishes program who have an interest in conservation are mentored in media and have an opportunity to contribute to the conservation cause through our Higher Calling magazine, e-newsletter and other media platforms.
In our first year, we have put out two of these e-magazines, Issue 1 and our Wildlife of Israel special edition and started our Sheep Scrapbook Project that raises awareness to wild sheep dying of parasite/disease risks from domestic sheep. We are giving out collector’s coins for those who submit photos they have taken of wild sheep in North America.
We posted on four Facebook pages related to hunting and parks and had such a great response we ran out of coins! The second bunch should arrive this week.
There were also some other positives from this year.
My “New Life For New Mexico’s Bighorns” article that was posted here won 1st place in the Texas Outdoor Writer’s Association Excellence In Craft awards for the blog category. We also took 1st in the independent blog category for the Press Club of Southeast Texas along with receiving a total of 13 awards for writing, radio and photography in both media competitions.
Our Turkey Revolution project entered its second year with unprecedented media coverage in publications ranging from Texas Fish & Game to Hunter’s Horn. This year’s goal of photographing an elusive eastern turkey in East Texas happened in April and was documented here.
Here at the end of of 2020, put my faith in Christ, my focus on prayer and hard work and moving forward with the best of my abilities.
There is healing of soul in the mountains, forests and waterways of our world. There is no bad news where eagles soar, trout swim and turkeys gobble.
I have been doing this locally, spending time fishing in a stream near my home and some private ponds at a friend’s property. It has allowed me to clear my head when the news of the day has been frustrating.
I have gotten back into flyfishing this year and have challenged myself to catch a five-pound bass on fly gear. I haven’t hit that mark yet but did get my best flyfishing bass ever-a four pounder.
Talk about fun!
And that’s something we will continue to cover here. Yes, we will have true news as it relates to wildlife but it will be balanced with fun challenges and interesting stories that hopefully inspire as well as educate.
Henry David Thoreau wrote that, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”
I don’t know about the world, but it certain helps preserve my enthusiasm for life.
Stay safe. Stay healthy and venture beyond the pavement into the wild. Great things can still happen there.
Higher Calling Wildlife founder Chester Moore won big at the Southeast Texas Press Club awards held Sat. Nov. 13
He won first place for an individual blog for this blog“Higher Calling Wildlife” in a category rarely that included blogs from many genres ranging from news to art.
The awards which recognize media based out of Southeast Texas is a prestigious organization covering all facets of electronic, print, and broadcast media.
Moore won first place in radio talk show for “Moore Outdoors” on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI for his interview with “Wild America” creator and host Marty Stauffer.
Moore also won for investigative radio program for his special program on human dangers in the woods including examining the “Missing Texas 40” cases around the Sam Houston National Forest that aired on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI.
Additionally, he took first place for radio public service announcements for his ongoing “Wildlife Journalist Chronicles”.
He took second place for specialty publications for his “Turkey Revolution” tabloid and his “Higher Calling Wildlife” story in the Pet Gazette for the news release category as well as taking third in social media for his work on Instagram.
“It’s an honor to be a member of the Press Club of Southeast Texas, much less win these awards. It’s always exciting to be recognized for the hard work I put into my wildlife journalism career. This year’s entries were especially important to me as I have been on a certain trajectory with mountain and forest wildlife, turkey, and the whole human dangers in the outdoors topics,” Moore said.
“It’s such a privilege to see my name popping up alongside other great journalists and media professionals in these awards. There are some truly great people in this profession in Southeast Texas and I’m blessed to be able to live and work in that area.”
Last year Moore won the “Adovcatus Magni” award for his work with wild turkeys from the National Wild Turkey Federation-Texas and in 2017 was given the Mossy Oak Outdoors Legacy Award for his work with wildlife and children.