MOORE OUTDOORS: ‘Black panther’ mystery up for debate amid reported sightings

Published 12:23 am Sunday, October 2, 2016

The following subject probably generates more reader interest than anything I have ever covered.

I am talking about “black panthers”.

Sightings of “black panthers” are common throughout Texas, including our Southeastern corner. Many hunters, fishermen, birdwatchers, hikers and people of all walks of life reporting seeing large long-tailed black cats they label as “black panthers”.

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The problems there is no such species as a “black panther” anywhere in the world.

What about the large black cats seen in zoos and on television programs?

Those are black leopards or black jaguars.

Melanism is when a hyper amount of black pigment dominates coloration of an animal. It happens in many animals ranging from squirrels to whitetail deer. Melanism is not uncommon in leopards in certain parts of their range as well as with jaguars. The black cats you see in zoos and on television are all melanistic leopards or jaguars.

The general assumption with “black panther” sightings in Texas is that these are black or melanistic cougars. The problem is there has never been a melanistic cougar observed by science either in a zoo, captive setting, killed by a hunter, mounted by a taxidermist or otherwise positive identified.

There is one grainy black and white photo of a cougar killed in Costa Rica in the 1950s that is very dark but that photo is questionable and on close examination looks chocolate brown instead of purely black.

There are dark brown cougars but no melanistic ones we are aware of. For melanistic cougars to be the answer to Texas’ “panther” question there would have to be many of them and there is no proof of any of them.

Jaguars as previously mentioned however do throw melanistic offering and are native to Texas.

They were allegedly wiped out more than 100 years ago but our investigations show there are still isolated sightings of typical spotted jaguars in Texas. That is an important point because if jaguars were present there would not only be black specimens sighted. Interestingly recent research show that melanism is a dominant trait in jaguars. In other words if a male jaguar for example moves into an area and starts breeding females there is a good chance much of the offering will be melanistic as well.

Could a remnant population of jaguars survived that had the dominant melanistic genes?

That is not a likely answer for the entire “black panther” phenomena but it is not out of the range of possibility for some of the sightings reported throughout the years. Again, jaguars are not even positively known to still live in Texas in any numbers.

Melanism is also present albeit rare in bobcats.

Melanistic bobcats have been killed and mounted in Texas, and in fact one that was mounted by taxidermist

Steve Moye was mounted leaping at a quail and hung in the Gander Mountain sporting goods store in Beaumont for the better part of a decade.

My experience shows that many people cannot differentiate a bobcat and a cougar. Many are surprised that bobcats have tails at and in fact some have tails as long as eight inches. A black bobcat could easily be labeled a “black panther” by someone who is not aware of melanism in the species and might not be able to differentiate between a bobcat and cougar.

Besides not understanding wild feline identification the biggest problem in misidentifying cougars and bobcats is scale. A large bobcat seen at a distance with nothing to compare it to looks much larger than reality.

This is why feral house cats are often to blame for “black panther” sightings. Many are shocked to see house cats in the woods but the fact is they are all over the place and have established populations in many wild areas of the state. A large black house cat seen at a distance has been the cause of many “black panther” sightings this author has investigated. In fact the bulk of videos and photos attributed to these mysterious cats have turned out to be house cats.

The jaguarundi is a prime candidate for “black panther” sightings.

A large jaguarundi in the common dark gray or chocolate brown phases crossing a road in front of a motorist or appearing before an unsuspecting hunter could easily be labeled a “black panther”. Since very few people are aware of jaguarundis, it’s highly unlikely they would report seeing one. The term “black panther” is quick and easy to report to others.

Everyone can relate to a “black panther” and virtually no one has ever heard of a jaguarundi.

Jaguarundis have been reported far from their known range and in fact there is a growing interest in jaguarundis as far east as Florida where sightings are reported frequently.

Is the jaguarundi responsible for all “black panther” reports in the United States? That’s not likely.

Are they the source of many sightings in the South and Southwest? Possibly so.

Some suggest the “black panther” sightings are the result of a “circus train” that crashed and its animals got loose.

This story has been repeated over and over again in Texas and locations change. We find no evidence of this and if black leopards were to escape the chance of them surviving and producing offspring wide-ranging enough for a phenomenon like this to take place is beyond far-fetched. Additionally why would only black leopards escape? Where are the lions and the monkeys and elephants?

There have been isolated cases of exotic cats escaping but in the author’s opinion they are not the source of a vast majority of sightings in Texas or at any other location in North America.
There is no one answer to this mystery but people are seeing something out there. Exactly what they are seeing is left up to debate.

To contact Chester Moore, email him at You can hear him on “Moore Outdoors” Fridays from 6-7 p.m. on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI or online at