Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Cougar of Sierra Blanca

The picture below was sent to me by a reader who, noting the unusually dark color of the cougar, wondered if it, and others like it, might not be responsible for black panther sightings in Texas and other areas of the country.

According to what I've read, this cougar was taken in far west Texas near Sierra Blanca. Sierra Blanca sits in the Trans-Pecos region of the Lone Star State in Hudspeth County (see graphic below). This is an area of the state which is recognized by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department as having a breeding mountain lion population. That being the case, a mountain lion in the area is not out of place. The coloration of the lion, though, makes it a somewhat unusual specimen.

The animal in the photo is unusually dark for a cougar but far from the dark black color reported by witnesses who claim to have seen a black panther. Having said that, I can see where a dark cougar, like this one, could easily be misidentified as being black in color at night or low-light conditions.

I don't feel this cat satisfactorily explains black panther sightings across the state. Cougars as dark as this one are rare to be sure as this is only the second photo I've come across of one this dark; however, these cats go through phases when their coats are thicker or thinner depending on the time of year. No doubt, this affects coloration. Still, this cat is unusually dark. Since this coloration, seemingly, is seen only sporadically it can't be the basis for all black panther sightings; many of which that have occurred in broad daylight. In addition to that, this cat's coloration is still far lighter than the truly melanistic cats described by many witnesses.

The question that may need to be asked is this; if cougars can get as dark as the individual animal in the photo above could they get darker still? If so, then the black panthers of Texas might not be an impossibility after all.


  1. My father says what he saw in the Big Thicket in the 1960s while clearing a pipeline right-of-way was decidedly BLACK. As he describes it, "It was black as coal..."

  2. there have been many reports of black panthers in East Texas

  3. wow...people need to do their homework...."black panthers" do not exist. What people call black panthers are actually black leopards. The name "panther" is just another name for large cat. It's just like calling a mountain lion a cougar or a Florida panther. All three species are genetically the same and have the same scientific name.

    That being said, it could be possible for a single black leopard to have escaped and maybe even have mated with one of the wild large cats in the area, but you have to think of the facts here. Black Leopards are from the tropical parts of Africa. They are used to hot and humid climates with a lot of vegetation and prey. Will there might be SOME places in the United States where this species can survive, there are just as many places where it is highly unlikely that they sighting are taking place. And if they do procreate, who is to say that their offspring does survive or is even able to procreate themselves. Look at the mule for example. Both of the mules parents were of different species but were close enough to mate, but the mule its self cannot. Who is to say that what ever offspring the black leopard has with a different species wouldn't be the same.

    Maybe it is as the author said and is just a darker strand of the local large cat. It is possible. Humans throughout the century have a record of mistaking one thing for another.

  4. Actually, black leopards would be very odd here, given they are from across the planet. Black jaguars, on the other hand are a possibility, as there once was a known population of jaguars in Texas. And currently, there is an acknowledged population in southern Arizona and some near the Mexico/Texas border. It is my understanding, that "black panther" merely refers to a large black cat of unknown species. Therefore, until the sightings of these cats is confirmed and the addition of a species name is panther would be correct terminology. I believe them to be jaguars, because I have seen one WAY too close and it was thicker/stockier than what I believe a mountain lion to be. That being said, I have not yet had a seriously close encounter with a mountain lion for comparisons sake.

  5. Ive seen a large black cat south of sierra blanca (next to redlight mill) . it was too big to be a house cat and was larger than a bob cat. it had a long tail like that of a moutian lion.