The enigmatic black panther phenomenon is alive and well in Texas (as well as other states). Wildlife officials almost universally say there is no such animal. They will tell you that there has never been a documented case of a melanistic mountain lion and that jaguars have been extirpated from North America with the only possible exceptions being extreme South Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. The facts they quote are just that…facts. It is true there have been no documented cases of melanism in a North American cougar. It is also true that jaguars are extremely rare North of the Rio Grande. Still, witnesses continue to come forward claiming sightings of these ghost cats. What are we to make of this?
First, let me repeat something that I’ve said before. I know that there is no such animal as a “black panther.” The known big cats that have been given this moniker are either African leopards or New World jaguars exhibiting melanism. So, when I use the term “black panther” realize it is a colloquialism, a catchall phrase, if you will, that is commonly used in Texas and the Deep South to describe any large, black or very dark, long-tailed cat.
Now that is out of the way, I present to you the latest sighting reports that have come in to me from people claiming to have seen these enigmatic animals. As always, I cannot vouch for the veracity of these accounts. 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.
“I saw a large black cat chasing a deer while I was hunting on Oct. 21, 2012. This was in Murray, KY off of Boat Wright Trail. It was only 65 yards from my stand and I was able to see it for about 8-10 seconds.”
TCH Comment – This report originates in Kentucky but I’ve included it here to help illustrate that sightings of large black cats are not just a Texas phenomenon. These animals are reported through out the South on a fairly regular basis. While reports from farther North are less common, they do occur, as the next report will illustrate.
“A colleague and I spotted a large black cat today outside of our office. We watched it for about two minutes and were able watch it through binoculars. It was a gorgeous black animal, smaller than Mountain lion but much bigger than a Bobcat. We both reported it to the DEC. Of course they think we are nuts. I looked for tracks but there were none; the ground was too dry. We are located in Western NY just West of Rochester. I am still amazed at what we saw and looking around on the web to see how many others have seen one. I am not nuts. We are both hunters and very experienced spotting and identifying animals. I have seen a Mountain Lion before and know what they look like.”
TCH Comment – Another report included to show that “black panthers” are not strictly a Texas or Deep South phenomenon. The reaction this witness received from the authorities is, unfortunately, the norm.
“I moved to Wise County, Texas in 1998. While sleeping with the windows open one night, I was awakened by a scream outside. The scream sounded like a frightened woman. Seven years later, in the spring of '05, while watching a new neighbor’s large black lab roam my east field, I scared him of with BB gun. A few days latter he returned, so I thought I would shoot up in the trees above him with bird shot. He went north across my field, so I went in house to get my gun and on returning watched for him to return along tree line of the east hay field. Not long after, something black appeared in my neighbor’s field to the north. Where this animal came from is a known game trail. My neighbor’s field is not planted, so it is very brushy. Next I saw a black tail above the brush and weeds. The brush was three feet tall. I realized this was no tail from the black lab. Next out of the brush came the rounded head, then the long neck, and long body. Even with the gun in my hands and three shells, I was scared. This animal was solid black and similar in size to a mountain lion. I didn't shoot and watched it disappear into my east field tree line at a trot. The next day I went to see if any tracks were left just to make sure I wasn't dreaming and there they were. Now 8 years later my neighbor has lost many young goats. This cat was not a bobcat or a large domestic. This was a massive cat and twice as long as the dog I had been watching.”
TCH Comment – A look at my black panther distribution map shows that Wise County and the surrounding area is a hot spot for sightings of large black cats. This sighting fits the “headwaters pattern” discussed in previous posts as it takes place very near the West fork of the Trinity River. The Lyndon B. Johnson National Grassland is also located in Wise County. It provides in excess of 20,300 acres of remote wilderness where a large cat could reside.
“I saw large black cat which I thought was a black panther out near lake LBJ. It crossed the road following a deer and went down into a canyon like area full of rocks... it was near some homes.”
TCH Comment – Mountain lion sightings near Lake LBJ, while not common, are not unheard of. The reservoir sits 45 miles Northwest of Austin and forms part of the border between Llano and Burnet Counties. I’ve received several reports from this part of Central Texas (see distribution map).
“Your acquaintance in Franklin, Texas is right! There are several "Big Cats" in the area. I live about 10-15 miles from Franklin & we have had one on our property, I have had one run across the road on FM 2549 in front of my car. They have their "Cry" that they do & it can be heard almost nightly. For them to let out a roar is something that will send chills up your spine!”
TCH Comment – This area of the Brazos Valley, surprisingly to me, hasn’t had too many sightings of large, black, long-tailed cats. The area does sit directly between two areas, Central Texas and Southeast Texas, that do have high concentrations of sightings. Maybe the Brazos River is a travel corridor for these cats? One thing I found intriguing were the sounds the reader attributes to these cats. The “woman-like” scream is something that has been reported many, many times; however, her reference to a “roar” is unusual. Mountain lions are not considered true big cats by wildlife biologists. There are several reasons for this but one of them is the fact that, unlike tigers and lions, cougars cannot roar. IF the roaring sound the reader refers to is, indeed, coming from a big cat, it isn’t a mountain lion she is seeing. On the other hand, jaguars, which are historically native to Texas, can and do roar. As most know, jaguars can be melanistic as well. Could a jaguar have made its way as far North as the Brazos Valley?
“Love this site! I live in Clay Co. in Texas, close to Wise Co. 15 to 20 years ago there was a pair of black "mountain lions" or so people thought. We have bobcats and mountain lions here. Recently a neighbor and I were talking about a mountain lion I had spotted by my house. He asked me if I had seen the black one. He had spotted one just recently. I am starting to wonder exactly what it was. I know the one I spotted years ago was bigger than your jaguarundi. The head didn't look the same either. I wouldn't have thought about it being a jaguar until talking to a hunter friend who said he thought there were jaguars in Texas.”
TCH Comment – Another report originating near the headwaters of the Trinity River. This reader echoes what many witnesses have told me; mainly, that the long-tailed black cat they saw was too big to have been a jaguarundi. Many others pointed out that the small odd-shaped head of the jaguarundi does not match the shape or size of the head of the cat they saw.
“There is definitely a large black cat in the rural Paradise, TX area. Before we knew it was large and black, many people lost sheep and goats to it. My sister has lost many sheep in the past several months. Yesterday, she was talking to a friend who lives just south of her, and he drove up on it. He did get a picture. It is a large black cat. I am posting this so people watch their livestock, pets, and children.”
TCH Comment – Still another report from Wise County. Could a hard pattern be developing here? If this witness is reading this post, I would really love to see that picture your managed to snap of the cat. Please contact me via email at Texascryptidhunter@yahoo.com.
“My grandfather and I, on our family's ranch in Lingleville Tx. (About 75 miles south west of Fort Worth), saw a black cat with a long tail while feeding cattle. My great grandfather always told stories of seeing one on occasion. I'm a believer. There's no doubt in my mind of what it was. They’re around.”
- Zane Hallmark
TCH Comment – This report comes from much closer to home for me. Lingleville is an unincorporated community in Erath County. This area is very rural and dominated by ranches and dairy farms though it is also home to two of the nation’s largest renewable natural gas plants. Again, the “headwaters” theory comes into play as the North Bosque and Leon Rivers spring to life here. Lots of reports of mountain lions and “black panthers” come from this area.
“My wife called me last night about 5:00 and said she was looking at a big black cat. It was bigger than a bobcat and had a long black tail. We've seen bobcats around here for years, and it was no bobcat. When we found this picture, she said that it's what she saw.”
- Len Crawford (Oklahoma)
TCH Comment – The photograph Mr. Crawford refers to is below. The photo was allegedly taken by a game camera in SE Oklahoma and shows what seems like a Labrador-sized, black animal with a long tail. Speculation as to the authenticity of the photo has raged since it was made public. Some see a large black cat, some a black dog. Some claim to see signs of digital manipulation.
“I never realized this was such a hotly debated topic. I'm from Queen City Texas and I have hunting lease just south of Atlanta Texas. I hunt a 200' wide power line lane. While on my stand this afternoon I looked to the West checking for any sign of deer and I noticed something at the top of the hill in the middle of the road I didn't think much of it since it didn't look like a deer and was at the top of the hill at 300 yards a little out of my comfort range for a clean shot. Then I thought coyote and put my scope on it and I saw a big cat brown in color. It slowly walked in to the brush. I pride myself on hunting in the evening time using German made optics since the clarity and low light transmissions are second to none. Tonight I left my stand well before twilight, which is something I never do. What I saw actually spooked me.”
TCH Comment – Atlanta sits in Cass County in the extreme NE corner of the Lone Star State. This is deep in the Piney Woods region of the Ark-LA-TX area. People living in the more rural areas and river bottoms simply accept the reality of “black panthers.” Many do not realize that such an animal is not supposed to exist. This particular report mentions a cat that is “brown in color.” It is possible this was a darker than usual mountain lion, I suppose. Still, this gentleman speaks like a seasoned hunter and I would guess he would be able to identify a cougar even if he had never seen one in the wild before. Curious.
“I saw a young, 4 foot long, male black panther nailed to a fence post in Peeltown, Texas (Kaufman, Co.), back in 1984. I was 18 at the time and just assumed everyone knew these cats were in the Trinity River Valley. I sure wish I had taken pictures and knocked on that Ranchers door to get the story.”
TCH Comment – Kaufman County sits in NE Texas near the upper reaches of the Trinity and Neches Rivers. The sightings from this general area continue to accumulate. I, too, wish this reader had taken a photo back in 1984.
“I have seen two large black cats north of Hooks, TX in Red River Bottoms along with countless other people. My grandfather’s friend of 80 years said black panthers in the early 1900s were in large population in the Hooks/New Boston, TX area. I saw one in 1990 and again in 1993 North of Hooks, myself. It was three to four feet tall, with a black tail about 3/4 as long as its body.”
TCH Comment – Hooks sits in Bowie County, the most Northeastern county in Texas. This is a surprisingly wild and lightly populated area that is heavily wooded and has many rivers, creeks, bayous and swamps (it is just a stone’s throw from Miller County, Arkansas which is home to the famous Fouke Monster). “Black panthers” are just part of the lore from this area. Like other rural areas of the state, longtime residents have no doubts these large black cats are real. As far as they are concerned, these animals have always been there.
“Yesterday: I saw a large, definitely black cat cross the road 100 feet in front of me. This was late afternoon on North Shore Dr. about five miles north of Cisco, TX. The animal was running and was about 20-24 inches tall. The tail was MUCH longer than a bobcat but not as long as panthers are described.”
TCH Comment – Cisco sits in Eastland County in West Central Texas. The area remains very rural and lightly populated. There were only 20 people per square mile living in the county according to the 2000 census. All that to say there is a lot of space and areas for wildlife. As for this account, due to the size reported, I cannot absolutely rule out a large feral cat. They can get surprisingly large when living in areas where food is plentiful and easy to come by. I feel that a jaguarundi is also a possibility here. The size fits though the description of the tail given by the witness would not be a perfect match. Neither can I rule out a juvenile cat of some larger species. It is just impossible to say.
Again, what are we to make of these sighting reports? I just don’t believe everyone is lying or mistaken. I continue to believe there is a biological entity behind these “black panther” sightings.
I'll leave you with the words of a reader who sent me a comment just today.
"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."
*Please continue to send in your sighting reports. If anyone has had multiple sightings on the same piece of property and is willing to allow me to post a game camera just let me know. Let’s get to the bottom of this mystery.