Monday, April 21, 2014

America's Black Panthers: A New Theory Emerges

It is no secret that I’m fascinated with the possible existence of large black cats in Texas and the rest of the South. I get reports weekly from people who claim to have caught glimpses of these enigmatic cats. People who grew up in rural areas often express no doubt that these animals exist. Wildlife officials, however, have a different take on the phenomenon. They insist there is no such thing as a “black panther.” They simply do not exist and never have.

I, along with many others, have put forth theories on what might explain the continued sightings and possible existence of these ghost cats. Jaguars have been suggested as a suspect. After all, they were once native to Texas and most of the southern U.S. and do exhibit melanism from time to time. Others think the most likely culprit is a wild cat called the jaguarundi. Jaguarundis can exhibit a dark gray to black coat and, while not particularly large, are significantly larger than a domestic cat. Still others feel that, despite science never having documented it, cougars might, on occasion, exhibit melanism or, at least, a much darker shade than is common. Personally, I’ve never found any of these theories totally satisfying. I had more or less settled on the theory that the most likely explanation for black panther sightings was probably a combination of the theories mentioned above, along with the occasional misidentification.


I have recently become aware of another possibility that I actually find to be quite intriguing. An article posted on the ScienceBlogs website, written by Darren Naish, discusses the possibility that large, long-tailed black cats being seen in Australia might actually be feral cats that have grown to enormous sizes. You an access the article here. In a nutshell, Naish details some intriguing evidence that suggests that once “kitty” goes feral, it, or its offspring, can reach a shockingly large size. How large is “shockingly large?” How about feral cats reaching sizes the equivalent of a small leopard? It is hard to believe but, unlike other cryptids like the sasquatch or the Loch Ness monster, there are several photos and several carcasses that seem to prove that extra large feral cats are a reality. Can this really be? Is there a new strain of Felis catus, the domestic cat, out there achieving these astounding sizes?



Mr. Naish gives several examples of large black cats caught on video that, while very large, exhibit characteristics much more akin to Felis catus than true big cats. Naish points to two pieces of footage that were played by Australian cryptozoologist Paul Cropper at a conference he attended. Cropper’s presentation was on Australian ABCs (Alien Big Cats). The two video clips Cropper played during the presentation featured footage of two large, black cats exceeding 1 meter in length. They made quite the impression on Naish and he says in his article, “But rather than being feral leopards or any other cat species that exhibits melanism, the weird thing is that these cats looked like gigantic specimens of F. catus.”


Of the first clip, Naish said, “The first bit of footage (I’ve been unable to track down details on when and where it was filmed: let me know if you can help) showed a big black cat slinking along a vegetated hillside. The cat appeared to be very large (I say this based on the size of the surrounding vegetation, and on the overall look and ‘heaviness’ of the animal), but its pointed ears, tail and gait make it look quite different from a leopard or any other big cat. It also looked nothing like a leopard cat, ocelot, caracal, lynx, or any of the golden cats. Clearly, what I’m getting at is hard to quantify, but it was as if someone had super-sized a feral moggie.”

Mr. Naish was even more impressed by the second video Cropper played. He said,“The second video that Paul showed was even more remarkable. We start with a daytime shot of a perfectly normal grey domestic cat, sat on a shrub-covered hillside near a stand of trees. Then the camera pans to the right. From behind the trees slowly emerges a big black cat, apparently more than twice the size of the grey domestic cat. Yet its head and face – which we can see in full detail – show without doubt that it is a domestic cat, with vertical pupils, pointed ears, and a dainty snout quite unlike the deeper snout of the large cats. Its shoulder blades appear proportionally big and overall it appears unusually muscular. The ordinary grey cat, sat not less than two meters away, is not in the least perturbed by the presence of this monster. I struggled to understand what I was seeing: was this some sort of trick using forced perspective?”



It seems that this second piece of footage, shot by Gail Pound and her husband in 2001 near Lithgow, New south Wales, has been quite the source of controversy down under. About the only thing everyone agrees on, according to Naish, is that the video really does show a panther-sized, black cat sitting next to a normally proportioned feral cat. Most estimations have the larger of the two cats measuring in excess of 1.5 meters (4.92 feet) from head to tail. Naish quotes a local newspaper article that summed up the conclusion of New South Wales government officials. It reads, “Last year, the NSW government asked a seven-member panel of big cat experts to view a video shot near Lithgow, west of Grose Vale, of what appeared to be a large black cat – possibly a panther – in close proximity to a large feral cat. They concluded that the larger of the two was a huge feral cat, two to three times normal size. Their reasoning was only that they did not think a feral cat would be so close to a panther.”


Mr. Naish mentions other videos, most notably that shot at Dunkeld in the southern Grampians, Victoria, in December of 2004 by Andrew Burston. The video shows what appears to be a very large, black feral cat walking in close proximity to an adult kangaroo. The cat, Naish notes, does not look like a leopard or any other known exotic. “Again, the cat looks very odd: the profile of the back appears more like that of a small cat than a large one (Felis cats have a more obviously convex lumbar and pelvic region than pumas and big cats); its tail appears proportionally too short for a leopard or puma; and its gait and the shape of its head also look more like those of a Felis cat than of a puma or big cat. This time we have an excellent scale bar, as the animal actually walks within a few metres of an adult kangaroo.”
The Dunkeld cat has been estimated to stand 75 cm (2.46 feet) high at the shoulder. This would be unusually large for a feral cat but this is the opinion of most, including Melbourne zoo official Noel Harcourt who went on record saying the cat was a large feral.


Naish also discusses several carcasses that have been brought in by hunters. One, shot in Victoria measured 1230 mm (4.04 feet) head to tail. Feral cats, Naish notes, generally measure in the neighborhood of 750-822 mm (2.56 – 2.70 feet). It should be noted that what is believed to be the largest domestic cat ever, an Australian tabby named Himmy, had an overall length of only 965 mm (3.17 feet). Yet another specimen was taken in Gippsland in June of 2005 by a hunter named Kurt Engel. This beast allegedly measured 1.6 meters (5.25 feet) in length. Engel dumped the big cat’s body but kept the tail as a souvenir. The tail alone measures 650 mm (2.13 feet) in length. DNA testing performed by Monash University, located in Melbourne, indicates this cat was F. catus.

Preliminary evidence, admittedly much of it circumstantial, seems to indicate that, in at least some cases, feral cats in Australia are growing to truly impressive sizes rivaling those of leopards and cougars. If so, it isn’t too much of a stretch to think that this could be happening in North America, too. If North American feral cats are beginning to grow to exceptionally large sizes then it could help explain black panther sightings across the continent.


As discussed earlier, various explanations and theories have been put forth to explain sightings of large, black, long-tailed cats in our country. If you are like me, you probably know them by heart. The witness saw an escaped exotic such as a leopard, they saw a known species like a jaguarundi, it must have been a normal colored mountain lion in shadows or low light, maybe it was a wayward melanistic jaguar they saw. Again, all of these theories have holes in them and I don’t feel any one of them, or a combination of all of them, can explain all black panther sightings here in Texas and North America. Of course, there is another explanation/theory that has been put forth over the years and that is that the witness saw nothing more than a domestic or feral cat. In the past, most witnesses have found this idea quite insulting. Who can blame them? Everyone knows the normal size parameters of a domestic cat, after all. Most witnesses would tell you what they saw was the size as a Labrador retriever or larger. How could that possibly be a feral cat?


Based on the article by Darren Naish referenced above, maybe we have all been too quick to be insulted. Is it possible that both witnesses who have seen the legendary black panther and skeptics that say they must have seen a domestic/feral could BOTH be right? The goings on in Australia suggests that might be the case. If feral specimens of F. catus are growing to these extraordinary sizes it could be the key to unlocking the black panther mystery. Ferals are not just common, they are everywhere. They are quite prolific. Even if only 1 out of 100 achieve this unusual size then that is significant and could go a long way toward explaining these sightings.

While not a melanistic cat, the following photo shows what looks, with the exception of its unusually large and bulky size, to be a typical domestic/feral cat. You can clearly see the head has all the hallmarks of being a domestic. Still, it looks really big. Could this be an example, from right here in Texas, of what seems to be happening in Australia? If this cat had been solid black then we’d be debating exactly what it was from now until Doomsday because it does appear to be too large to be a normal cat. The fact that it is colored like a typical housecat has, I believe, caused many to dismiss it as nothing unusual a bit too soon. There have been other examples, a large cat photographed near a feeder in the Texas Hill Country, the large black cat captured on video in Iberia Parish, Louisiana, and a large charcoal-colored cat photographed in South Texas. All seem, at first glance, to be far too large to be examples of F. catus. Knowing what we know now, maybe we should reconsider the domestic/feral cat as a candidate for at least some of the black panthers reported each year.


The puzzle that makes up the black panther picture in Texas and the American South remains incomplete. I don’t doubt that, on occasion, many of the usual theories that have been put forth regarding the phenomenon are correct. I also believe that people have been mistaken about what they’ve seen from time to time. I do not, however, believe the usual “go to” explanations satisfactorily explain all sightings. I’m not convinced that even if domestic/feral cats in North America are growing to extremely large sizes, it would explain all the sightings either. I do feel, though, that the possibility of F. catus growing to very large sizes could explain at least some of the sightings of black panthers and should be seriously considered. The black panther puzzle may remain incomplete but maybe we’ve just added a new piece.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Updated Black Panther Distribution Map

Below is the latest version of my black panther distribution map. The map now includes the latest reported sightings deemed credible and discussed in the previous two posts on this blog.

Understand, this map is not meant to be exact. I am bound by the amount of detail given to me about sighting locations by witnesses. If you are looking for GPS coordinates to get you within 20 yards of a sighting location then this map is not going to do it for you. It isn’t meant to. My intentions in mapping the sighting locations was to get a broad sense of where these cats were being spotted and hope to pick up on some “big picture” type of pattern. The overall locations are as accurate as they can possibly be on a map to this scale.


As for patterns, those previously discussed seem to be holding. Nearly all of the sightings have taken place near major waterways. In particular, sightings tend to bunch up near the headwaters of major Texas Rivers like the Sabine, Neches, Trinity, Guadalupe, San Antonio and Nueces. The exceptions to this pattern would seem to be the sightings reported along the Brazos and Colorado Rivers. It could be argued, however, that about the point the Brazos and Colorado become more than just a trickle is the point where sightings begin to take place with some measure of regularity. It should also be kept in mind that the upper reaches of both of these rivers lay in very sparsely populated areas where sightings would be less likely due to the dearth of human occupation.


The sighting map is also beginning to resemble the map of wood ape sightings in the Lone Star State as compiled by the NAWAC. Basically, the number of ape and black panther sightings increases the farther East one travels across Texas. This correlates nicely to the average amount of rainfall each region of Texas receives. Again, the farther East you go, the more rain you get. It is interesting to note that the areas where the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department admit to breeding populations of mountain lions, the Trans-Pecos/Big Bend region and deep South Texas, there have been next to no reports of large, black, long-tailed cats. What that means can only be speculated upon.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Another Enigmatic "Black Panther" Photo Surfaces

I came across the photo below yesterday and thought I’d share it here. It seems the picture was an online entry in a trailcam photo contest. The photo shows a nice buck all bowed up in a defensive posture as a very large, and very dark, cat eyes him menacingly. According to the information on the photo, it was taken in December of 2007. The site said the photo was taken near Tenaha in deep East Texas. I see nothing in the photo to make me believe it is not legitimate.


The one problem I have with the photo is the claim it was taken near Tenaha. I’m from deep East Texas and this doesn’t look like that area to me. The dirt in that part of the world is a deep reddish-orange (due to high iron content). Also, Tenaha sits in the Piney Woods region of Texas. There’s nary a pine tree to be seen in this photo. These are hardwood trees that have dropped their leaves. Certainly, there are areas where hardwoods grow in that area but the fact that there is not a single pine present really makes me believe we are not looking at East Texas.

Even if the location is incorrect, we should not lose sight of what is important here. In the big picture, what matters is WHAT we are looking at and not so much where the photo was taken. Don’t get me wrong, the location is important. I’d certainly want to know if a cat that size was on my property, but the critical factor here is the size and dark coloration of the cat. Remember, according to wildlife officials, there is no such thing as a “black panther” anywhere in the United States. Jaguars, which do exhibit melanism on occasion, rarely cross our southern border (though sightings in Arizona and New Mexico are becoming more common) and there is not a single documented incident of a melanistic mountain lion. These facts are what make this picture so interesting. There aren’t supposed to be black, or very dark, cougars out there.


This is, at least in my opinion, clearly a cougar. I think you can plainly see that in the zoomed in and cropped photo below showing a close-up of the head of the cat. If so, it is an unusually dark specimen. To be sure, there are many variations in the shades of coat colors on mountain lions. Some are darker than others. The time of year, no doubt, also comes into play. Maybe the thicker winter coat this cat would be sporting in December is darker than the lighter summer coat. Speculative to be sure, but there is no arguing that, if this is a mountain lion, it is an unusually dark specimen. Could lions like this be the culprits responsible for the multitude of black panther reports in Texas and other parts of the U.S.? Certainly, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to think a witness would describe the cat pictured as a black panther. Maybe the question that should be asked is, if cougars can get this dark, could they get darker still? If so, then we have a prime suspect in our ongoing black panther mystery.


Personally, I don’t think dark cougars can completely explain the black panther phenomenon. Though they may not be as rare as previously thought, mountain lions this dark are few and far between. Dark colored lions may be out there but I think there has to be another component to the mystery considering the number of sightings reported annually.

Just what that other component might be is anyone’s guess.

Friday, March 21, 2014

2014 Black Panther Reports...So Far

Below are the latest handful of black panther reports I’ve received since the beginning of the year. I've received fewer reports than usual over the last three months or so but I suspect it is due to the harsh winter we've had here in Texas. Readers from the northeast may get a chuckle out of that statement but, by Texas standards at least, it has been a really tough winter in the Lone Star State. People have been inside more than usual and wildlife has been hunkered down in the warmest spots they can find. Now that spring is beginning to show its face, I am expecting black cat reports to pick up.

As always, I cannot vouch for the veracity of the accounts below. Most of them have come in as comments to blog posts with the commenter remaining anonymous. That being the case, I can’t make secondary contact. It is possible that some sighting reports are the work of hoaxers but I have diligently weeded out those that seem “shady” and printed only those that seem reasonable and credible. The original reports are in italics and are followed by my comments.


3/17/14

"Hello, I recently moved to a community NE of Mckinney, TX in Collin County. I saw what I believe to be a black panther walking in the woods along the creek behind our house. It looked like it had a 3ft tail and body w/tail about 6ft. It was in the shadows of the trees & I did not see any spots. We live in a new community w/ mostly vacant lots, woods, and lakes. The person across the street said he saw one over a year ago. I'm afraid for our dog. Can they be caught and relocated? You are welcome to put up a camera."

- Anonymous


TCH Comments: McKinney is a suburb of Dallas and sits just north of another bedroom community, Plano. This area has been the source of a surprisingly large number of black panther reports. McKinney sits between two large reservoirs, Lake Lewisville and Lavon Lake. While a satellite of Dallas, the area gets surprisingly rural very quickly. As far as trapping and relocating a big cat, it would take someone more qualified than I but I suspect it would be all but impossible. While this witness offered to let me put up cameras, the account was submitted as an anonymous comment to another post. That being the case, I can't get in touch with this witness. If the reader who submitted this report happens to see this, please contact me via email at Texascryptidhunter@yahoo.com and we can discuss placing a camera or two on your property.

3/5/14

"I was walking with my two German Shepherds out in my back pasture one morning about 7:oo in January of this year~2014, when my male shepherd came to a quick stop and stood watching something about 50 yards ahead of us. When I looked up I saw a dark colored cat about 30 pounds or so, leap about 10 feet up into a tree covered with thick brush and was gone, it had a long tail. this was off FM 414 in Cleburne, TX. Not sure what it was but a neighbor up the road said his wife had a picture that she had taken earlier."

- Anonymous


TCH Comments: Cleburne sits roughly 30 miles south of Fort Worth and halfway between Glen Rose and Waxahachie. This particular area has yielded fewer reports than the areas north and east of the Metroplex but is not devoid of accounts. The area is rural and there is plenty of room for a large cat to hide. This witness estimates the black cat he saw to be about 30 lbs. Could this be a juvenile? The size also makes a jaguarundi in black-phase a possibility. While the jaguarundi is a known species, finding one in north-central Texas would be quite a story as they are not thought to live too far north of the Rio Grande valley. They are very rare even there. I'd like to know if this witness remembers anything about the head of the cat as jaguarundis have a unique appearance. I suppose a large feral cat is a possibility as well if the witness was just a bit off on the heavy side in his weight estimate.


2/28/14


"I have seen a spotted cat in Texas. I have seen it almost every day for about 2 weeks then it was gone. As I have looked into big cats, I found out they move around as the food does and I know that what I saw was a jag and they have been seen here for over the last 75 years as I talk to the old cowboys around Quanah, Texas."

- Anonymous


TCH Comments: I found this report extremely compelling as it refers specifically to spotted cats, and jaguars in particular. As has been discussed here before, I don't receive many reports of spotted cats. I will say that the Quanah/Childress area and up into the Panhandle has a bit of a history of jaguar sightings. I haven't talked about it much here but plan on sharing one very interesting account about a jaguar sighting near Pampa, TX here on the site soon. For the reader who submitted this account, please keep a camera handy so that you can get a photo the next time that spotted cat shows its face.


1/18/14


"My husband owns a few acres of land in Center Point, TX where he and his friend go hunting. Last week as they were walking to their blinds they heard a loud cat growl but they didn"t see anything. Today my husband was standing by his shed and saw it. It was black, long tailed and the size of our yellow lab who weighs 80 lbs. My husband says he looked like he was hunting jack rabbits. He and his friend will try and see if they can trap him in a large pig cage. The ranch down the road has live stock cows, lambs and goats. My husband said he was a beautiful animal shiny black."

- Anonymous


TCH Comments: I went back and forth over this report and whether or not I should publish it. The first thing that caused me some doubt was how the witness claims her husband heard a "loud cat growl but they didn't see anything." How did they know it was a cat if they didn't see it? The second thing to give me pause was the statement, "My husband says it looked like it was hunting jack rabbits." What gave the witness this impression? After thinking about it though, I decided that if someone gets growled at by a large animal of some kind and then sees a big cat in that same vicinity shortly thereafter, it is a logical conclusion at which to arrive. The description of the animal is classic "black panther" from the size right down to the shiny coat. The area from which the report originates is in the Texas Hill Country and is a bit of a hot spot for sightings of long-tailed black cats. For these reasons, I decided to include the report here. If the witness who submitted this report is reading this comment, please do not be offended that I wrestled with whether or not to include your account. I try to be extremely conservative when I evaluate these types of things and it is likely that some valid accounts occasionally get left out. I decided a while back that I'd rather be short a few valid reports than to allow even a couple of those that are more questionable.

1/8/14

"I've hunted the vast brush country of South Texas for well over 30 years. I've never seen a Sasquatch, Skunk Ape, Chupacabra or any other so called "cryptid". I've never seen a rattlesnake approaching 7 feet and I've never seen a wild hog much over 300 pounds. I don't watch "Finding Bigfoot" and I don't think there's a "Loch Ness Monster". I don't think that little green men designed the pyramids and I don't believe in ghosts; I have however seen large "black cats" with my own eyes on several occasions."

- Anonymous

TCH Comments: I love, love, love this statement. This witness just sounds like a Texan. This report, while short on details, perfectly reflects the defiant attitude many rural Texans have about the reality of "black panthers." They are ready to fight when someone tells them there is no such thing. To them, these enigmatic cats are just part of the wildlife that has always been here.

I would like to express my gratitude to those that have submitted their sightings of large black cats. Remember, however, if you would like me to follow up with you please submit your account via an email and not as an anonymous comment to another post.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Dripping Springs School Presentation

Today, fellow NAWAC member Tony Schmidt and I had the privilege of giving a presentation on wood apes to a class of very enthusiastic Gifted and Talented 4th graders at Walnut Springs Elementary in Dripping Springs, Texas. The class is taught by Mrs. Kristi Fout, for whom the group has done presentations in the past (though at a different school district).


These kids were on the ball. They were extremely polite and well-mannered and asked a lot of really good questions. Tony spent about 40 minutes alone answering questions with the kids as I was completely snarled in some of the worst traffic I've ever seen (I budgeted two hours and 45 minutes for a 90 mile drive and was still late). He did a terrific job and the kids were primed for the presentation once I finally made it there. I presented a power point slide show (sort of a wood ape 101), shared some Texas folklore tales, gave the kids a photo op with the large wooden cut out shown in the photo, handed out bookmarks and donated a copy of my bigfoot-themed children's book, Patty: A Sasquatch Story to the Mrs. Fout. Tony and I really enjoyed it and, I think it is safe to say, the kids did too.


All in all, a very good day for the Texas Cryptid Hunter and the NAWAC in Dripping Springs.

If you are interested in having me, or a member of the NAWAC, come out and give a talk on wood apes or another cryptozoological-related subject, please contact me at Texascryptidhunter@yahoo.com.

Monday, March 17, 2014

2014 NAWAC Training Camp

I had the pleasure of spending my last precious days of spring break attending the annual NAWAC training camp, which was held in deep Northeast Texas this year. This yearly event is held to bring new members up to speed on NAWAC policies & procedures, expectations and field protocols. It also presents an opportunity for veteran members to get to know the new folks and vice versa.


Various topics were addressed in multiple sessions over the two-day event. Topics addressed were:

- Safety in the field
- Lessons learned from Operations Endurance, Persistence and Relentless
- How to keep a proper field journal
- Investigator observations and anecdotes
- The essentials of teamwork
- Physiological stresses of extended field work
- Field scenarios and protocols
- Proper methods of evidence collection
- Nighttime research methods and tactics
- Recommended gear for the field
- Wrap up and group question and answer session

As you can see, it was a packed two days.

I was very encouraged by the quality and enthusiasm of our new members, some of whom traveled to Texas from as far away as New Hampshire and Maryland in order to attend. That, my friends, is commitment. We had a total of about 30 members attend the training camp and feel it was truly a worthwhile event. I look forward to working with all of our new members sometime soon.

If you are interested in joining the NAWAC and helping us in our efforts to document the North American wood ape, you can visit www.woodape.com and click the “Join the Team” link. Come help us make history.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

"Bigfoot Times" Reviews "Patty: A Sasquatch Story"

Daniel Perez, editor of the Bigfoot Times, has published a review of my new children’s book, Patty: A Sasquatch Story, in the March edition of the newsletter. Thankfully, he had good things to say. The review is below.

"Michael Mayes and his illustrator, Robert Swain, have produced a wonderful 52 page paperback book for young adults titled Patty: A Sasquatch Story, released in January of this year. The illustrations are extremely well done and bring the story to life. Patty has small feet and ends up leaving her tribe and striking out on her own. She befriends an owl, meets up with two cowboys and eventually finds her way home. The Sasquatch Insider, an appendix, is very interesting. Unfortunately, no where in the book do we find out who coined the nickname of “Patty.” Think Dmitri Bayanov!"


Daniel’s only criticism of the book was that I did not explain who coined the nickname “Patty.” This is fair and, if I could do it again, would include the fact that Mr. Bayanov came up with it in the "Sasquatch Insider" section. To be fair, I do say that the female sasquatch filmed in 1967 was nicknamed “Patty,” in tribute to Roger Patterson, on the back cover. So, I didn’t skate over this altogether.

My reason for not explaining the origin of the name in the book is actually pretty simple. My protagonist needed to already have a name for the beginning of the story. I couldn’t figure out how to name Patty for the cowboy in the story when the tale begins before she ever meets up with him. So, to simplify things, I just gave my young sasquatch the name “Patty” from the beginning. Call it “artistic license,” lol.

If you would like a copy of the story for yourself, or to donate to your local elementary or city library as part of my “Kids Love Cryptids” reading campaign, just check out all online book sellers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.). I’d recommend doing a search by the title of the book and shopping around a bit as prices vary day to day and site to site. Electronic versions of the book for the Kindle, Nook and other devices are also available. If you’d like to order an autographed copy directly from me you can contact me directly at mikemayes44@yahoo.com and I’ll get you the details on how to do that.