Sunday, August 9, 2009

Lost Bears and Black Panthers

The news just keeps rolling in today...

The San Francisco Chronicle reported today on a couple of unusual wildlife sightings in the Bay Area. California is a long way from Texas but the events reported by columnist Tm Stienstra may have a logical tie in to events that continue to be reported in the Lone Star State.

One sighting involved a bear. Apparently, a hiker nearly walked headlong into a bear while walking along the Peninsula's Skyline Ridge. The bear is likely the same individual spotted about this time last year in the same vicinity. The sighting makes 10 likely valid sightings of a bear in the Bay Area in the last 12 years. Stienstra writes, "The idea that the Bay Area still has enough wild places for bears to astonishing."

The event that really caught my eye, however, had to do with another animal: one that is not supposed to exist. Lynn Reed, a rancher, avid hunter, and, according to the article, wildlife expert claims he and his wife watched what appeared to be a black mountain lion for more than 10 minutes in the foothills near Dublin in Alameda County. The sighting gained even more credence when another large black cat was seen by an engineer in the nearby San Ramon hills. Reed's 10 minute sighting of a black mountain lion was the longest eyewitness account since a Game Warden reported one in the 1980s near the Sunol Regional Wilderness. "He was black as can be with a head the size of a cantaloupe," Reed said. "We watched it for 10 minutes. I said to my wife, 'Look how its tail goes back and curls up, look how its shoulders move.' It was 3 feet long, the tail 2 1/2 feet, maybe 60, 75 pounds."

Of course, what makes the whole idea of a black cougar so interesting is that they are not supposed to exist at all. The pelt of a black mountain lion has never been recovered and no cases of melanistic cougars have ever been documented in the wild or in captivity. California wildlife officials are citing some tiresomely familiar theories. The most likely explanation, in their opinion, is that an owner of an exotic animal, like a black leopard or jaguar, let an animal loose. Black panthers, they say, do not exist in California.

According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife, black panthers don't exist in Texas either. However, to residents of river bottoms and heavily wooded remote spots in Texas, the big black cats are just part of daily life. I personally know two people who claim to have seen black panthers. One saw a large black cat while hunting on his family's property near the Davey Crockett National Forest in East Texas. The second person spotted both a tawny colored and a black "long tailed cat" in central Texas not 50 miles east of Waco. Wildlife officials fail to recognize that even normal colored cougars have returned to east and central Texas. The sightings are almost always explained away as a misidentification or an escaped pet. Reports of black panthers don't even merit a response from wildlife officials in this state at this point.

So, what are people seeing? There are several possibilities, in my opinion. The first possibility is simply that cougars can sometimes be black. This is a well-documented trait in jaguars and leopards. Scientists have yet to see it in cougars but that doesn't mean it doesn't occur. The second possibility is that jaguars still roam the state. Texas was once part of the jaguar's natural range. The last known jaguar in Texas was killed in Brownwood in the 1940s. It is thought they may still haunt the state's southern border but are not thought by wildlife experts to range into central or east Texas. One more possible candidate for the black panther sightings is the jaguarundi. The jaguarundi is a relative of the cougar but much smaller. It averages between 30 and 45 inches long and can be dark in color though, it is thought, not black. A final possibility is that there is simply an undocumented species of large black cat roaming not only Texas but other areas of the country as well.

So, which of the possible explanations is the right one? I'm not big on the jaguar explanation. The melanistic jaguar is well known but still not common. If jaguars were the culprits, I would think that the normal spotted coat would be reported much more often than the jet-black color. Also, the physical characteristics most often described seem to rule out the jaguar. Jaguars are massive cats with thick muscular builds. They are the third largest cat in the world coming in behind only the tiger and the lion in size. Jaguars have massive heads, necks, and shoulders. The cougar on the other hand, is a more lithe cat and not nearly as large. The jaguarundi may be responsible for some black panther sightings as they fit the "long tail cat" description and most people have never even heard of them. However, they are small and their size alone rules them out as the culprit in most black panther sightings. That seems to leave cougars or an unknown species as the explanation.

Whatever the explanation, people, including wildlife experts, continue to report large black panthers in this country. It is going to take some extraordinary photographic evidence or a body to convince the scientific establishment that these animals are real and do roam the remote areas of our state and country. Sounds familiar doesn't it?


  1. I am from south central texas, i saw a black panther in 2003, it was not a jaguardini thing it wasn't no kitty kat they exist!

  2. sightings of a black cat of some sort up here in Parker County this week

  3. I saw a black panther with another witness in Hooks,TX Red River bottoms in 1991.

  4. I would like to hear about it. If you care to, email me the details at

  5. I literally saw one last night. We live in a very rural area in east texas. I was driving down our dirt road and saw a large black shadow crossing the road about 50 yards away from me. I sped up because I have been waiting for this experience for a long time. As I sped up to it it started running over 40 mph ahead of our car on the road! It ran in front of my car for about 100 yards then leaped off the road...I followed it through a field then it hide behind a bush and disappeared. This was not a cougar. It's tail was about 3 inches thick and it ran like nothing I've ever seen. It was probably the coolest wildlife experience I have ever had and one of the neatest ones of my life. They exist....absolutely beautiful too

  6. I've seen them before here in East Texas around Piney Creek before. Caught one in my headlights once and got a good look at him.

  7. In Whitney,TX along Hwy 22- I witness two brown bears while driving - I turnd around to get a photo of them and of course they were gone within second- Once you see that snout and that face and you know without a doubt what you are looking at- couldn't even get a photo- a mountain lion is rumoured to be lurking around the lake of waco,tx- nothing confirmed but some big domestic pets being found- mauled and dragged-

  8. My wife has seen a black panther twice in our back yard in liberty county TX

  9. I saw one in Pleasanton CA yesterday - I was on the radio and the paper - it's a bog deal however I have a feeling people think I am crazy - It was exactly like the Panther in your picture - jet black with a dappled/patterned coat which looked like a trick of the light - but there is no doubt what I saw - Fascinating - but not when one's toddler is in tow!
    Jo Gunderson

  10. My toddler and I saw one yesterday - It's on the news - Check out the story!
    Fantastic animal, it's head was like a melon as someone else described - like a teddy bear face - round, not pointed at all - with rounded ears and the unmistakable tail - it was sat watching us - I called out to it and it turned its head - that's when I knew for sure! It then stood up and walked off right in front of my eyes - Terrifying with my kid, but the most magnificent thing I have ever seen in the wild
    Jo Gunderson, Pleasanton CA

  11. I've heard all the stories myself and didn't believe that cougars were here in east Texas, until I seen one for myself. You can bet that Cougars are here in Delta County, North East Texas. They do vary in color from lite brown to dark brown (but NOT BLACK)! I think they are only seen as black because they are usually only spotted in the late evening or when its dark out. I have one coming on my property every year for the wild pig carcasses and deer remains after hunting season. A mile down the road from my house, my hunting buddy got a picture of one that is just sitting in front of the game camera looking out at the deer feeder.
    Seen During Deer Season: October - December 2011

  12. I saw one of these "legendary" Black Mountain Lions last week on Thanksgiving Day, around 10 am in the morning, in rural Oroville, Butte County, CA. The weather was bright and sunny and the critter was well out into the open. I was just under 66 feet away from him.

    He was moving through a small orchard of dwarf citrus trees that was a part of a fenced-off ranch-style property which runs along a roadside. I'd never seen anything like this before and was very excited but not frightened. One of the first things that passed through my mind was, "This must be someone's pet leopard, or something." He didn't have on a collar or leash, or anything. I was right at the fence a good deal of the at least 7 minutes I watched him. I know I surprised him, because when he saw me, he dropped down and crouched into the grass.

    He was black, and looked long and lanky, and just like mountain lions I had seen in documentaries. He had quite a long tail which was uniformly thick, carried off the ground, and curved upward. He moved with a characteristically feline grace--but not like a little kitty cat. He was about the size of a small Labrador. When he was crouched in the grass and watching me, I could see that his ears were rounded and not pointy.

    He seemed content to stay crouched in the grass, so I decided to move to the southward edge of the orchard fence and see if I could get a sidways view of him. When I did that he took the opportunity to start moving north again, through a fence into the dwelling house part of the property. Since I had no luck in seeing him from the south side, I went back to my original vantage point, and when I got there, he dropped back into the grass again and watched me. He seemed very patient.

    A few moments after I started watching this guy, a friend called me on my cell--which had a camera, but I never even thought of using it to get a pic...What a mistake! Oh well, such is life.

    This creature was patiently crouched and I decided to try to get another sidelong view of him from the orchard. Having had no luck again, I returned and he was gone....

    But now I KNOW that Black Lions do exist. I just can't prove it.

  13. I saw one yesterday evening, November 10, 2014. I was pulling into my driveway in Crockett, Texas. We have 50 acres and I saw a rather large black cat moving slowly in our pasture about 5:30pm. It stopped behind a tree and I never saw it come out. I took my cell phone and began walking toward the tree to see if the cat was still looked up at me and I snapped a picture of its was bedded down in some low grass...when it saw me it popped up and began running through the pasture to our creek between our 2 ponds,.....I snapped 2 pictures of it ... the pictures are not very clear but it was definitely a big black looked to be about 3 feet long (not including it's tail) and stood about 2 to 2.5 feet tall....not a large panther but it looked like a small one.....perhaps a cub???? Or whatever their little ones are called..but it DEFINITELY WAS SOLID BLACK AND HAD A LARGE BUSHY TAIL.....I am convinced it was a black panther...not an adult one but a young one!!!!