Saturday, May 28, 2016

Enigmatic Black Cat Reports From Texas

Texans continue to send me reports of their encounters with large, black, long-tailed cats, most commonly referred to as black panthers in this part of the world. Before we begin, let me repeat a few things that I have said before. I know there is no such animal as a “black panther.” The known big cats that have been given this moniker are either African/Asian leopards or New World jaguars exhibiting melanism. 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 American South to describe any large, black, long-tailed wildcat.

Some of the reports below are older than some I have already published in previous posts. There are various reasons for this, but, suffice to say, it has nothing to do with me having any doubts about their veracity. The reports appear below just as they came to me with the exception of my having redacted the names of some of the witnesses in order to protect their privacy. This step was not necessary in some cases as the reports came to me in the form of comments to existing blog posts and were submitted anonymously.

5/26/16

“I live just outside Lockhart on a 100 acre heavily wooded ranch. Driving up the driveway tonight I saw a large dark feline walking slowly up my driveway. From behind it reminded me of a tiger walking at the zoo-long thick tail and all. I flashed my bright lights at it and it turned and looked back at me with yellow eyes. It was definitely not a bobcat because we've seen those frequently on the property.”

- Anonymous


TCH Comment: Lockhart sits about 20 miles to the east of San Marcos in South-Central Texas. The San Marcos River flows only a few miles south of the community and numerous creeks wind through the area providing ample water and travel corridors for wildlife. The witness lives on a ranch. People who ranch for a living typically know their wildlife and are familiar with predators that could become problematic for their livestock. The area certainly could support a big cat.



5/23/16

“My boyfriend who lives in Alvord TX had a very large black cougar looking cat run through his pasture. It was May 7, 2016 around 2:00 pm. After talking to some of the local people around our area they say they have heard of some people spotting large big cats also. It's not frequent and ranchers in the area have had small calves killed and drug off. I'm wondering how many others have ever seen these large cats? We do live near Panther Creek in Alvord TX. Although it's rumored that these are Mexican cougar cats. Curious if anyone else has spotted these cats.”

- XXXXXX (Relayed to me by Sharon Hill of Doubtful News)


TCH Comment: This report is pretty typical of what I usually get. A witness spots a large, very dark cat of some kind, asks around to find others have seen similar animals, etc. What caught my eye was the use of the term Mexican cougar cats. In the mid to late 1800’s and well into the 1900’s similar terms, the most common of which were Mexican lion and Mexican tiger or tiger cat, were used to describe jaguars. There is no reason to doubt the person reporting the story. She does not over embellish the details and the area in question has had its share of black panther sightings. I will add this report to my distribution map.


5/23/16

“I've often wondered about this as I have had my own experience with a large black cat about 15 years ago at Pedernales State Park. My family and I were camping there at the last site open, campsite 13. My youngest daughter, who was 3 at the time, and I went for a walk on the trail behind the campsite just before dusk. She walked ahead of me, picking up rocks or leaves that fascinated her. I happened to spot movement in the shadowed path ahead. I really couldn't believe what I was seeing- a large black cat with green eyes. I grabbed my daughter in a split second and stood mesmerized for just a few moments, still not really comprehending what I was seeing. I quickly turned and went back to the campsite. I asked my daughter what we just saw and she said "cat". I told my husband, which sounded quite unbelievable when spoken. I went back to see if it was still there, but it was gone. When I returned, deer came trampling through our site as if to be running from something- a big black cat! I ran up to the Ranger station to make the report and was met with ridicule. I forced them to take the information. So sad. We packed up and left when I returned. What an experience that I will never forget! I still love Pedernales!”

- Kami XXXXXXX


TCH Comment: Pedernales Falls State Park is located in Blanco County 10 miles east of Johnson City along the Pedernales River. As of the 2000 census, there were only 8,418 people residing in the county. This works out to an average of only 12 people per square mile. While Austin continues to sprawl to the south and west, there is still a lot of space for a predator to roam in the area. Mountain lions are seen in the area from time to time. If cougars can survive in the area there is no reason to think another species of large cat could not do the same.


5/21/16

“About 15 years ago, my husband and I used to ride out bikes at McAllister Park in San Antonio. Believe it or not we saw a large black animal that looked like what everybody has described in your blog. It was way too big to be domesticated, it was the size of a large dog but it was feline...very stealthy and ran quickly across the road at a distance from us...”

- M. XXXXXXX


TCH Comment: I have had what I believe to be credible reports of large cats come out of surprisingly urban areas; however, I am a bit dubious on this one. Understand, it is not the witness I have an issue with as I believe she and her husband did see something, I just am having a hard time figuring out how, and why, a large predator would come to be in this area. McAllister Park sits right off of Wurzbach Parkway, a very busy road, inside of loop 410 (the “inner loop” of the city). A big cat would have to traverse a lot of city to get to this location. Urban sightings are plausible when there is a route in and out of an the area that a large animal could traverse unseen like a greenbelt, a creek or river, etc. There is no such feature coming from outside of town all the way into McAllister Park. It is true that Lorence Creek comes close to this site but it peters out back to the west just as it gets to 281, well short of 1604 (the “outer loop” of the city) and beyond where it does get pretty lonesome and wild pretty quick. In addition, McAllister Park has an area especially designated as a dog park. It is possible that a large, black dog got away from its owner and made a brief appearance on the trail. I certainly could be wrong but all of these factors lead me to believe the possibility of a misidentification in this particular incident are strong. For that reason, I will be leaving this sighing off of my distribution map.


5/20/16

“I came across your site searching for possible answers to what my daughter saw. We live in Del Rio, Tx and my daughter (21 not a child btw) was out walking one of our huskies, when she saw a large black cat run across the street, from the neighborhood into the brush in an undeveloped area. She came running in the house, scared, saying she's just seen a black panther. I told her we don't have panthers in Texas but she said it was about the size of our huskies, with a long tail and jet black. I spoke to our neighbors across the street about it because their house is adjacent to that undeveloped area, and they said they have been hearing two large cats in the evenings, for about a month now. They said it sounds like a child a screaming. The property the cat ran to eventually goes back into ranch land and Mexico. Any ideas what my daughter saw?”

- Donna XXXX
X

TCH Comment: That is certainly the million dollar question isn’t it? Del Rio sits just north of the U.S.-Mexico border along the Rio Grande River and just to the E-SE of Amistad Reservoir. There is no question that a big cat could be living in this area. It is sparsely populated with miles of open space to roam. It should be noted here that jaguars have been documented crossing into the U.S. from Mexico in Arizona and New Mexico. If it can happen in these border states, there is no reason to believe it could not happen here in Texas, too. Did Donna’s daughter see a black jaguar? Obviously, I cannot say for sure. I can say that if it really was as big as a husky, it could not be a jaguarundi or domestic/feral cat. The tale described eliminates the possibility of a misidentified bobcat and cougars do not exhibit melanism. What does that leave?



4/24/16

“I live in Willis, TX, North of Houston, I saw a large black cat chasing a deer through the back of my neighborhood. Went back today and got photos of the tracks.”

- Jennifer XXXXXXX


TCH Comment: Short, sweet and to the point. Willis sits just north of the Houston suburb of Conroe and, while not in the national forest proper, is surrounded on three sides by the Sam Houston National Forest. The area does have a history of sightings of large, black, long-tailed cats. Jennifer, I would love to see the photos of the tracks. If possible, please email me the photos at Texascryptidhunter@yahoo.com. I will hold off on placing this sighting on my distribution map until I can get a look at those tracks.


4/9/16

“We are in Emory, Texas and seen a big brown cougar twice with s big head and a black jaguar sized cat twice in own back yard. They hunt our deer in our brush.”

- Anonymous


TCH Comment: I think it is important to point out that this witness clearly differentiated between two different types of big cats he has seen on his property. Nearly all Texans, even those living in urban environments, know what a mountain lion looks like. Even if it is uncharacteristically dark, a cougar is a cougar. Folks also know when they have seen something different. That seems to be what has happened here. I would encourage this witness, and anyone reading who has seen one of these enigmatic cats, to get a game camera up on the property.


1/29/16

“Sitting on the back patio of our hill top house with my wife I spotted a large black cat about 250 yards away coming out of a creek wash in the pasture and weed over grown field behind our property. I pointed out the creature to my wife and then grabbed binoculars from the house to watch as it travelled across the field. Upon my return it spotted my movement and began moving slowly away toward some over growth weeds and mesquite brush, stopping twice to look over it’s shoulder back at me, before disappearing into the over growth of weeds and mesquite brush. The animal was about 18 to 20 inches tall and had a body length of about 40 inches with a tail about 25 to 30 inches in length. It appeared to be half again larger than a Bobcat but smaller than a full-grown mountain lion and possessed a fairly small head in relationship to the body. The color was dark charcoal black to a dull black with no distinct markings. The animal walked in a manner I would refer to as ambling and did not hurry to exit even after seeing my movement. In it’s travels I observed it walked past three horses upwind from it without spooking them and then after disappearing it past about 7 or 8 cows downwind from it 100 yards sending a yearling calf scampering at full run into the safety of the herd. The herd then moved as a group toward the cat and in the direction of a road bridge that lay in the direction it had last been seen traveling toward. In a few minutes the cattle lost interest and returned to grazing. The cat had probably passed under the roadway at the bridge moving along the winding creek bottom.”

Earl XXXXXX, Prairie Dell, Texas


TCH Comment: The description of this cats appearance given by Earl is almost a textbook description of a jaguarundi. The size, the long tail, small head and charcoal/black dull-colored coat described all fit the jaguarundi bill. Even the fact that the cat did not overly alarm the livestock would make sense as a jaguarundi would not be a threat to an animal as large as a horse or a cow. The Prairie Dell area could still sustain a large predator. There is an ample whitetail deer population and more feral hogs than can be counted. Numerous creeks and stock ponds could provide water and, to this point, the sprawl from Austin has not reached quite this far north. I will be adding the sighting to my distribution map.


11/18/15

“OK…three things have recently come together and have me scratching my head. My wife and I live in East Texas in a well-known RV Park / Campground in the Pine Forest. The park is Wolf Creek Park, located in San Jacinto County just outside of Coldspring, TX. Last month, my wife mentioned that one of our campers had seen a “black panther”. I didn't listen much to the story but did let her know that they must have mistaken something else for it because big cats do not exist in this part of Texas. She knew the campers well and thought they would not make something like that up but I didn’t give it another thought.

This morning, a friend who recently bought a ranch about 20 miles from here, told me that after moving his horses from his previous ranch to the new one about a week ago a “cat” had gotten hold of his #1 competition horse and seriously mauled it. I asked him if it was a bobcat or if the horse had somehow tangled with a domestic/feral cat and he replied “it was a panther or cougar or whatever you call them up here, it took 480 stitches to sew him up!” He said someone from Parks and Wildlife advised him that large cats moved “up and down in this area”???

I was shocked and on my way home realized that I may have actually seen one myself, on two occasions. First, I used to travel to Louisiana quite often on business. When I have to be in Baton Rouge or Lafayette I will usually elect to leave very early in the morning from my home rather than stay overnight in a hotel. I have seen just about every kind of creature we are familiar with in this part of the country on or near the roads I travel at these early hours. Several months ago I was only about 2 miles from the Park and approaching a home that I knew had several dogs that could often be found close to or even laying on the road. I slowed up just before getting there and was not surprised to see an animal cross from left to right up ahead just barely in my headlights. I could see that it stopped on the shoulder of the road and was facing me. As I got closer and passed it, I got goose bumps over what I thought I saw. It appeared to be a large black cat, its fur was a dull looking dark gray or black and not “fuzzy”. It was much bigger than a bobcat and had a large squarish head and didn’t stand very tall but its legs appeared to be unusually thick which gave it a very squat and powerful appearance. I noticed no spots or tail. As I drove on, I eventually convinced myself that my imagination had gotten the better of me. I've often wondered what it was I actually observed. My friend’s story reminded me of this. The creature I think I saw would certainly be capable of such an assault.

The second time was a couple of months ago. About an hour before sunset, I was preparing to dispatch some feral cats that I had trapped during the previous night at my house (I have some choice words for those who think they are "freeing" their cats by dumping them in the woods!!). I was entering some property just across the road from the Park. I got out of my truck to open a gate and observed a dark creature cross the highway about a quarter of a mile away. It appeared to be slightly raised up in the back and its general outline and motion actually made me think of a wolverine. I realize that wolverine’s do not exist here but for some reason that's what it made me think of and why I continued to watch it. What was curious was the way it moved, it was fast and covered about 40 yards very quickly but it didn’t seem to be trying to run, more like a smooth lope rather than a dead run. I didn't see much more than an outline and can't remember a tail but I can say it was bigger than a bobcat or coyote and did not have the shape or movement of anything I’m familiar with.
Lastly, I do occasionally hear an animal make a loud and annoying screech-like noise at night. I have always figured it was probably a bird like a heron because they make a lot of noise when they are disturbed and are forced to fly away. I could not imagine anything else that would make this awful noise.
Now I wonder???”

- Cliff XXXXXXXX


TCH Comment: Let’s take Cliff’s sightings one at a time. I will not comment on the story he shared about the TPWD personnel telling him cats come through the area from time to time. No new news there. The description he gives of a large black or greyish cat with a large square-shaped head would seem to rule out a cougar or jaguarundi as both of these cats actually have a smallish head in relation to their body size. Jaguars on the other hand, have very large heads and are considered a suspect in the black panther mystery due to the fact that they do exhibit melanism from time to time. The area in question is right on the edge of Sam Houston National Forest and the shores of Lake Livingston, an area with a history of enigmatic black cat sightings. The lack of a tail bothers me, however, and will prevent me from putting this sighting on my distribution map. To be clear, this does not mean I do not believe Cliff. I just want to keep the quality of sightings on the distribution map very high and the lack of a tail on this animal leaves open the possibility of a misidentification of some kind.

Cliff’s second sighting interests me a great deal as well. I am wondering if he did not catch a glimpse of a juvenile black bear. These bruins are slowly, but surely, returning to East Texas and sightings are becoming more common. Still, it has been so long since they have been around that people are not used to seeing them. This leaves the possibility for misidentification high should someone catch only a fleeting glimpse of one.


11/9/15

“Hey Mike, attached is a picture of a cat seen from a deer blind just North of Llano, TX yesterday (Sunday) by my co-worker. Was just curious if you might know what this is? I was thinking just a large feral house cat, but my co-worker thought it was too large....

Note the small doe in the background for reference.”

Regards,
Lang XXXXXXXX
Austin, TX


TCH Comment: Looking at the photo (below) I think Lang is likely correct and we are seeing a large domestic/feral cat. Perspective is always difficult to figure in photos taken at any kind of a distance so it is really hard to say just how big this cat might have been. The doe in the background seems close but that could be a bit of an illusion. I will say that the cat seems to have her attention, though. The body and head shape just look like a domestic/feral to me so I will not be putting this sighting on my distribution map. I would like to commend and thank Lang for being aware enough of the interest out there in these cats to get the photo from his co-worker and then sending it to me.



11/7/15

“Hi, I came across your website this morning when I searched for "Big Black Cats North Texas." Yesterday while exploring the area around Lake Nocona just northeast of Nocona, Texas, I saw a black cat crossing the road in front of me. It was smaller than a mountain lion but shaped like one. It was black and had the long, curled tail. This was not a bobcat, nor a large domestic cat. It moved like a mountain lion. The coordinates where I saw this beautiful creature are: 33.869469, -97.635031.

I'm building a home in this remote area and will be keeping my eyes and camera alerted for another sighting of this creature.

Thanks for your website and info.”

Pen XXXXXXXXX


TCH Comment: The sighting Pen describes is fairly typical of the reports I receive on a monthly basis from Texans who have seen these large black cats. Nocona is located on the northern edge of an area with a rather large cluster of sightings of large black cats. The coordinates given correspond to a spot along Oakshore Road near Lake Nocona. The area is lightly populated and has an adequate prey base and enough water to support a predator of the size described.

Again, the question of what people are seeing must be asked. Is everyone mistaken or lying? Many biologists would say that is exactly the case. I just have a hard time believing that. I would like nothing more than to validate the claims of those who have had run ins with these large black cats with proof that they exist. I strongly encourage anyone who has had any sort of big cat sighting to invest in a game camera or two. I series of photos or a short video clip might not be enough to prove the existence of these phantom cats but it might intrigue some mainstream scientists enough to get involved and at least look into the phenomenon.

I will be updating my distribution map with the sightings above soon. I will publish that here once it is updated.

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