Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

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Thursday, 16 August 2012

THE TRUTH ABOUT BLACK PUMAS - SEPARATING FACT FROM FICTION REGARDING MELANISTIC COUGARS

Computer-generated mock-up of a black puma (Dr Karl Shuker)


In all the time that I have been researching and documenting creatures of cryptozoology (almost 30 years now!), I have encountered few subjects engendering more controversy and confusion than the reality, or otherwise, of black pumas. Consequently, I have explored various aspects of this most contentious mystery cat in a number of different publications of mine. Yet as the subject still incites heated debate even today, I feel that it is now time to assemble together my disparate writings concerning it, and present them here (together with some previously-unpublished information) as a ShukerNature review article.

North American mystery black panther – a melanistic leopard, or a black puma? (William Rebsamen)

The two most commonly-voiced identities for Britain’s elusive ebony-furred mystery cats, as well as those reported in continental Europe, North America, and Australia, are escapee/released black panthers (i.e. melanistic, all-black specimens of the leopard Panthera pardus) and black (melanistic) pumas. Yet whereas the former is plausible, the latter is little short of impossible - for two extremely good, fundamental reasons.


REASON #1: CONSPICUOUS BY ITS ABSENCE

Ordinarily, the puma Puma concolor (aka the cougar, mountain lion, panther, catamount, and painter) occurs in two separate colour forms (morphs) – tawny-red, and slaty-grey, both of which are common.

A normal tawny-coloured puma

Conversely, even though this species has the greatest native distribution range of any modern-day wild cat, occurring from the northernmost regions of North America to the southern tip of South America, the number of confirmed black pumas can be counted on the claws of one paw!

Not a single scientifically-confirmed preserved specimen exists. In 1843, a bona fide black puma was shot in the Carandahy River section of Brazil by professional hunter William Thomson, but regrettably its skin was not retained. In addition, I have seen various online mentions of an enigmatic taxiderm cat dubbed the 'Cherokee cougar' that has been claimed to be a black puma. Measuring 6 ft 2 in (1.87 m) long, and variously said to have been shot in Tennessee or Montana, it has been denounced by sceptics as a normal puma that has been dyed black, or some entirely different feline species. However, hair samples from it that were tested by researchers from the zoology department of East Tennessee State University confirmed that they had not been dyed, and DNA samples verified that it was a puma. Nevertheless, photos of it (not seen by me so far) apparently suggest that it is dark brown rather than truly black.

Unfortunately, however, no primary sources concerning this potentially significant specimen are provided by any online documentation that I have encountered so far. So if any reader can provide some, or can offer any further information or first-hand observations regarding it, I would greatly welcome receipt of them.

In 1998, American mystery cat investigator Keith Foster of Holcolm, Kansas, informed me that what had been reported to him by the person concerned as being a "glossy black puma" had been shot and killed in Oklahoma several years previously after it had been killing sheep on his father's farm. Afterwards, this person (a church pastor who was known to Keith) contacted the authorities, and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife duly confiscated the cat's carcase. Nothing more was heard about it after that, but Keith vowed to trace it. Unlike so many cryptozoological cases featuring a missing specimen, moreover, Keith did succeed in doing so, but was disappointed to discover that it wasn't glossy black in colour after all, merely grey.

As for pictorial evidence, only one clear, unequivocal photograph of a black puma is known. Reproduced below, this photo depicts a dead specimen shot in 1959 by Miguel Ruiz Herrero in the province of Guanacaste along Costa Rica's north Pacific coast. Estimated to weigh 100-120 lb, its carcase is seen here alongside Ruiz's herdsman, but what happened to it afterwards is unknown.

Ruiz's black puma (Miguel Ruiz Herrero)

In view of such exceptional scarcity of tangible evidence, it is evident that the prospect of any of Britain's, Europe's, or Australia's black mystery cats being escapee/released black pumas is unlikely in the extreme. After all, if there were such extraordinarily rare non-native cats as black pumas in captivity in any of these regions, they would surely have attracted immense publicity, and would have been far too valuable to be allowed to escape or to be released by their owners.

But what about in North America, where the puma is a native species? Surely a black morph could have arisen here? After all, countless sightings of seemingly very large all-black cats claimed by their eyewitnesses to be melanistic pumas have been reported all over this continent (most especially in the east), and continue to be today. There are even Native American traditions appertaining to such beasts, which they termed 'black devils' or 'devil cats'. But could they truly be melanistic pumas? Not according to Reason 2.


REASON #2: THE TWO-TONE DILEMMA

Whereas most melanistic cat forms are uniformly black all over, so-called black pumas only have black upperparts. Their underparts are noticeably paler, usually slate-grey or dirty cream. This provides crucial evidence for discounting such cats as the identity of Britain’s, Europe's, North America's, and Australia's pantheresque mystery cats, because these latter felids, just like bona fide black panthers (and also like melanistic specimens of the jaguar Panthera onca), are black all over.

A black panther, i.e. melanistic leopard (Qilinmon at the English language Wikipedia)

The black puma's distinctive two-tone colouration, black dorsally and paler ventrally, can be clearly discerned in Ruiz's specimen. Equally, the Carandahy River specimen's appearance was described by Thomson in his book Great Cats I Have Known (1896) as follows:

"The whole head, back, and sides, and even the tail, were glossy black, while the throat, belly, and inner surfaces of the legs, were shaded off to a stone gray."


THE JAGUARETE – AN AMALGAMATED ANOMALY?

Yet although exceedingly scarce today, black pumas do seem to have been more common in past ages, certainly in South (even if not in North) America, because there are a number of reports and even one or two early illustrations of such cats, sometimes dubbed ‘couguars noires’, in archaic natural history tomes. And these reports and illustrations often compare closely with the (very) few verified modern-day specimens - although in some cases there appears to have been confusion between, and amalgamation of, reports of black pumas and reports of black jaguars.

A black (melanistic) jaguar (cburnett/Wikipedia)

I examined this confusing situation as follows in my very first book, Mystery Cats of the World (1989):

"Referred to in Latin America as `black tigers', [melanistic jaguars] tend to be noticeably large, especially in the Mato Grosso. According to various antiquarian zoology tomes and native Guyanan beliefs however, a further type of black tiger would seem to exist within this continent, one which allegedly is very different morphologically from the typical melanistic jaguar. Nevertheless, its precise identity has never been satisfactorily ascertained.

"Nowadays a totally forgotten felid, this mysterious melanistic was referred to as the `cougar noire' by the eminent eighteenth-century naturalist de Buffon, and as the `jaguarete' (a less ambiguous name, which I therefore prefer and shall use hereafter in this book) by his equally eminent contemporary Thomas Pennant. However, in the virtually verbatim version of Pennant's description which appeared in Thomas Bewick's A General History of Quadrupeds, S. Hodgson referred to it merely as `the black tiger'. Hodgson's choice of name would seem to imply that the jaguarete is truly nothing more than a straightforward melanistic jaguar. Yet neither the illustration which accompanied Pennant's description nor that (by Bewick) which accompanied Hodgson's is compatible with such an identity. To quote Pennant:

"'Head, back, sides, fore part of the legs, and the tail, covered with short and very glossy hairs, of a dusky-color; sometimes spotted with black, but generally plain: upper lips white: at the corner of the mouth a black spot: long hairs above each eye, and long whiskers on the upper lip; lower lip, throat, belly, and the inside of the legs, whitish, or very pale ash-color; paws white: ears pointed. Grows to the size of a heifer of a year old: has vast strength in its limbs. Inhabits Brasil and Guiana (Guyana]: is a cruel and fierce beast; much dreaded by the Indians; but happily is a scarce species.'"


Bewick's 'black tiger', in which it is clearly two-tone (like a black puma) rather than uniformly black (like a black jaguar)

"In addition, Hodgson noted that it frequented the seashore and that it preyed upon a variety of creatures (including lizards, alligators and fishes) as well as devouring turtles' eggs and (rather curiously) the buds and leaves of the Indian fig."

Buffon's two-tone 'cougar noire'

Subsequent to writing Mystery Cats of the World, I discovered that in 1778, German naturalist Johann Christian Daniel Schreber had formally described the jaguarete and christened it Felis discolor ('two-coloured cat'). Yet, paradoxically, the accompanying colour illustration of it merely showed a mid-/dark-brown cat resembling a normal puma!

Schreber's monotone 'two-coloured cat' Felis discolor

Returning to my book's account of this mysterious cat:

"What could the jaguarete be? On first sight, a black jaguar identity seems most likely - in most specimens, the rosettes can indeed be seen as cryptic markings against the coat's abnormally dark colouration. However, the black jaguar is dark dorsallv and ventrally, just like the black panther and other melanistic felid individuals, thereby contrasting markedly with the near-white underparts, lowers jaw and paws of the jaguarete. Of course, it may be that the jaguarete is nothing more than an inaccurate description of a black jaguar, but arguing against this is the statement in a footnote by Pennant that two jaguaretes were actually shown in London during the eighteenth century; hence their appearance would have been familiar to naturalists of that time."

In my book, I went on to consider two additional jaguar possibilities. One was that the jaguarete was a jaguar possessing the rare recessive black-and-tan mutant allele of the agouti gene in homozygous (two-copy) form, because this yields a cat with black dorsal pelage but light or cream underparts, which corresponds well with the shot black pumas of Thomas and Ruiz. The other possibility was a pseudo-melanistic jaguar, i.e. one in which its rosettes had freakishly multiplied and amalgamated to yield a similar appearance – black dorsally and normal, paler colouration ventrally.

However, having given the matter of the jaguarete further consideration since writing that book, I now deem it more plausible that like so many other cryptids (such as the great sea serpent and the Nandi bear), the jaguarete was in reality a non-existent composite beast, erroneously created by combining together reports of wholly different animals. In the case of the jaguarete, those animals would seem to be normal South American melanistic jaguars (explaining the spots) and rare but nevertheless real South American melanistic pumas (explaining the two-tone colour scheme, which matches that of the Ruiz and Thomas cats). Certainly, some of the images that I have seen of the jaguarete greatly resemble black pumas of this nature, even including the puma's characteristic black facial bar, as seen, for instance, in the illustration below:

Engraving of the jaguarete in Thomas Pennant's A History of the Quadrupeds (1781)


THE YANA PUMA – NEITHER PUMA NOR JAGUAR?

As if the jaguarete had not muddied – and muddled - the taxonomic waters sufficiently in relation to black pumas and black jaguars, South America may also be home to a further melanistic mystery cat, and of quite prodigious size, as documented by me in another of my books, The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003). Known as the yana puma, it may even have been the inspiration for one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous short stories, 'The Brazilian Cat', which was first published by Strand Magazine in 1898, then republished in a 1923 collection of his horror stories, Tales of Terror and Mystery.

One of the illustrations by Sidney Paget accompanying the original 1898 publication of 'The Brazilian Cat'

Here is a condensed version of my book's account of the yana puma:

"Several years ago, I read a short story by Conan Doyle called 'The Brazilian Cat', published in 1923, which featured a huge, ferocious, ebony-furred felid that had been captured at the headwaters of the Rio Negro in Brazil. According to the story: "Some people call it a black puma, but really it is not a puma at all". Yet there was no mention of cryptic rosettes, which a melanistic (all-black) jaguar ought to possess, and it was almost 11 ft in total length - thereby eliminating both puma and jaguar from consideration anyway. Hence I simply assumed that Doyle's feline enigma was fictitious, invented exclusively for his story - but following some later cryptozoological investigations of mine, I am no longer quite so sure.

"To begin with: in Exploration Fawcett (1953), the famous lost explorer Lt.-Col. Percy Fawcett briefly referred to a savage 'black panther' inhabiting the borderland between Brazil and Bolivia that terrified the local Indians, and it is known that Fawcett and Conan Doyle met one another in London. So perhaps Fawcett spoke about this 'black panther' and inspired Doyle to write his story. But even if so, it still does not unveil the identity of Fawcett's panther. Black pumas are notoriously rare - only a handful of specimens have been obtained from South and Central America (and none ever confirmed from North America). Conversely, black jaguars are much more common, and with their cryptic rosettes they are certainly reminiscent of (albeit less streamlined than) genuine black panthers, i.e. melanistic leopards. However, the mystery of Brazil's black panthers is far more abstruse than this... [I then went on to discuss the Brazilian jaguarete, referring to the accounts of Buffon and Pennant already incorporated in this present ShukerNature article.]

"Yet as it seemed to be nothing more than a non-existent composite creature - 'created' by early European naturalists unfortunately confusing reports of black jaguars with black pumas - the jaguarete eventually vanished from the wildlife books. Even so, its rejection by zoologists as a valid, distinct felid may be somewhat premature. This is because some reports claimed that the jaguarete was much larger than either the jaguar or the puma - a claim lending weight to the prospect that a third, far more mysterious black cat may also have played a part in this much-muddled felid's history.

"Dr Peter J. Hocking is a zoologist based at the Natural History Museum of the National Higher University of San Marcos, in Lima, Peru. Aside from his official work, for several years he has been collecting and investigating local Indian reports describing various different types of mysterious, unidentified cat said to inhabit the Peruvian cloudforests. One of these, of great relevance here, has been dubbed by him 'the giant black panther'.

"In an article published by the journal Cryptozoology in 1992, Dr Hocking revealed that this particular Peruvian mystery cat is said to be entirely black, lacking any form of cryptic markings, has large green eyes, and is at least twice as big as the jaguar. Moreover, the Quechua Indians term it the yana puma ('black mountain lion'). This account immediately recalls Conan Doyle's story of the immense Brazilian black cat. The yana puma is apparently confined to montane forest ranges only rarely visited by humans, at altitudes of around 1600-5000 ft. If met during the day, when resting, it is generally passive, but at night this mighty cat becomes an active, determined hunter that will track humans to their camps and has sometimes slaughtered an entire party while they slept, by lethally biting their heads.

"When discussing the yana puma with mammalogists, Hocking has frequently been informed that it is probably nothing more than a large melanistic jaguar. Yet as he pointed out in his article, such animals do not attain the size claimed for this mysterious felid (nor do melanistic pumas) - and the Indians are adamant that it really is quite enormous. Nevertheless, the yana puma could still merely be a product of native exaggeration, inspired by real black jaguars (or pumas) but distorted by superstition and fear.

"However, a uniformly black, unpatterned felid does not match either a black jaguar or a black puma - yet it does compare well with Conan Doyle's Brazilian cat. Moreover, as some jaguarete accounts spoke of a black cat that was notably larger than normal jaguars and pumas, perhaps the yana puma is not limited to Peru, but also occurs in Brazil. Is it conceivable, therefore, that Doyle (via Fawcett or some other explorer contact) had learnt of the yana puma, and had based his story upon it? If so, it would be one of the few cases on file in which a bona fide mystery beast had entered the annals of modern-day fiction before it had even become known to the cryptozoological - let alone the zoological - community!"


Particularly intriguing in relation to the yana puma is an illustration that I recently came upon while browsing through Sir William Jardine's tome The Natural History of the Felinae (1834). It was a magnificent watercolour drawing by James Hope Stewart of an alleged black puma from Paraguay, dubbed ‘Felis nigra’, with big green eyes and unpatterned coat.

Felis nigra’, a black puma – or even the yana puma?

Yet unlike other abnormally dark pumas on record, the Jardine individual was black all over, rather than being black dorsally and paler ventrally. Consequently, its uniformly black, unpatterned pelage, together with its large green eyes, accord well with native descriptions of the Peruvian yana puma.


THE ONÇA-CANGUÇÚ - A WHITE-THROATED, TUFT-TAILED JAGUAR?

One further South American mystery cat worthy of mention here is a remarkable Brazilian felid known locally as the onça-canguçú. Its existence has lately been confirmed via the procuring of physical remains by Dutch zoologist Dr Marc van Roosmalen, who has discovered numerous new and unclassified mammalian forms in Brazil during his researches there over the past two decades, but its taxonomic identity currently remains undetermined. I have documented all of Marc's discoveries in my book The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals (2012), so here is what I wrote about his mystery cat:

"White-Throated Black Jaguar
Last, and most mysterious, of all, this unclassified big cat, which is known locally as the onça-canguçú (‘bigger jaguar that goes in pairs’), resembles a very large black (melanistic) jaguar Panthera onca, but, uniquely, has a white throat and a tufted tail. Moreover, unlike normal melanistic jaguars, which, when viewed at certain angles, can be seen to be rosetted, the onça-canguçú is pitch-black with no coat patterning whatsoever. Marc has yet to see this creature personally, and also narrowly missed the opportunity to inspect one pelt – a hunter who had killed one of these cats threw its pelt away shortly before Marc arrived asking about this feline cryptid. Happily, he later obtained both a pelt and a skull, which should greatly assist in determining the onça-canguçú’s zoological status."

Dr Marc Van Roosmalen surrounded by specimens of some of the new Brazilian mammals that he has discovered, with the onça-canguçú's pelt and skull visible on the floor in this photograph's bottom-left-hand corner (Dr Marc van Roosmalen)

As only its throat (as opposed to its entire ventral surface) is white, as it compares in size to a large black jaguar (and hence is evidently bigger and burlier than a puma), and as it has a tufted tail (an extraordinary feature possessed only by the lion among known felids), I do not personally consider the onça-canguçú to have any relevance to the question of whether black pumas exist in South America. However, it will be most interesting to discover what DNA analyses on samples of the pelt owned by Marc reveal, and how closely the skull compares anatomically to those of jaguars and those of pumas.


ARE BLACK PUMAS AN OPTICAL ILLUSION?

Over the years, a number of explanations for claimed sightings of native black pumas in North America and escapee/released non-native black pumas elsewhere have been put forward, proposing that they are merely normal pumas observed under abnormal conditions. When tested, however, such theories have failed to deliver. To quote once again from my Mystery Cats of the World:

"[As contemplated by veteran puma investigator Bruce Wright:] Could normal-coloured pumas appear black when wet? To investigate this, Wright took the fresh hide of a newly killed puma from Vancouver Island, suspended it by its edges, filled it with water and left it overnight. When he examined it the following morning, however, despite viewing and photographing it from every conceivable angle, he was unable to make it appear black in colour. He also considered the possibility that backlighting of normal pumas could create the illusion of black fur, but this, when checked, proved untenable too."


A BLACK PUMA AT LONDON ZOO?

Finally: The following account and images, included here as a ShukerNature exclusive, are excerpted from my forthcoming book Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2012). Once this book has been published, I shall remove the watermarks from the images below:

"As far as I was aware, no such animal [black puma] had ever been kept in captivity, at least not in Europe. But all that changed a while ago during one of my numerous visits to one of my all-time favourite places – Hay On Wye, Herefordshire’s world-famous ‘Town of Books’, nestling on the Welsh border.

"In addition to around 30 bookshops at present, this small town also has shops devoted to antiquarian prints. As an avid collector of such items, I was browsing in one of these shops one sunny Saturday afternoon during the late 1990s when I came upon a truly remarkable example – remarkable because it is not often that an antiquarian print depicts a cryptozoological cat!

"The print in question, which was an original hand-coloured copper engraving dating from 1862 (as written in pencil on its reverse), and which I naturally lost no time in purchasing, is duly reproduced here (its previous appearance, in an article of mine published by the now defunct British monthly magazine Beyond, where it was reproduced in its original full-colour format, may well have been the first time that it had ever been published anywhere), and appears to portray a bona fide black puma."


My black puma engraving (Dr Karl Shuker)

"Certainly, it comes complete with jet-black upperparts, slaty-grey underparts, and white chest – very different from normal pumas, which are either tawny brown-rufous or silver-grey (the puma exhibits two distinct colour morphs), but matching precisely those few confirmed black puma specimens. Most interesting of all, however, is the engraving’s caption: “The Puma. In the Gardens of the Zoological Society”. This means that if the puma in the engraving has been coloured accurately, and there is no reason why it should not have been, a black puma, that most mysterious of mystery cats, was once actually on display at London Zoo!

"When I first discovered this engraving, I wondered whether its astonishing black puma was exhibited at London Zoo at the same time as the zoo’s unique captive woolly cheetah, bearing in mind that the engraving was dated 1862. Who knows, if so, it may even have been in the enclosure next door!

"In February 2011, however, I discovered a second copy of the same puma engraving, but this one was dated 1825. (Moreover, the hand-colouring on this latter version, reproduced here, is much more skilful.)"

The second version of the black puma engraving (Dr Karl Shuker)

"So which (if either) is the correct date for it? The mystery deepens, and darkens – which is very apt for anything featuring a black puma at its core!"


Indeed it is. For as I have shown here, the all-too-commonly-cited 'explanation' in media reports of black mystery cats being black pumas is woefully unsubstantiated at the present time by confirmed evidence of such cats' existence. Or, to rephrase this situation in a more succinct manner – AWOL black pumas RIP!


NB - In most cat species, melanism is due to the expression in homozygous (two-copy) form of a recessive mutant allele; in the leopard and probably other species too, this is the non-agouti mutant allele of the agouti gene. Conversely, in the jaguar and also the jaguarundi Puma yagouaroundi, melanism is due to the expression of a dominant mutant allele instead. In the case of the puma, however, the genetic basis of melanism is presently unknown, but as black pumas do not display a uniformly black pelage anyway but rather a two-tone pelage, it is likely to be due to a fundamentally different genetic scenario.

Holding a model of a black panther (Dr Karl Shuker)

30 comments:

  1. The cat in the first painting at the top of your post looks more like a jaguar than anything else to me, particularly in head/facial structure - in fact, I have photos of the large male black jaguar at Chester Zoo (which also seems to have a rather short coat for a jaguar, or at least much shorter than the spotted male it shares an encolsure with) looking extremely similar. I think, at least in the more southerly parts of the US, jaguars have to be considered a candidate for "mystery" large black felids.

    (The Malaysian and Indonesian subspecies of leopard, which are almost exclusively black - I think I have read that spotted leopards are virtually unknown in parts of Malaysia - have been claimed as likely identities for UK and Australian "black panthers" - presumably imported by human agency but without official knowledge. Of course in Australia there is the claim of feral (Felis) cats growing to huge sizes as well...)

    As for South American mystery cats, I believe Marc van Roosmalen has documented an "ethnoknown" unspotted large black cat in the upper Amazon region, and collected a skull comparable in size to a large male jaguar's, but with some noticeable differences (I can't remember exactly what, but I think someone else examined it and agreed it was noticeably different from a typical jaguar skull). Darren Naish (Tetrapod Zoology) may have posted about it (I think he did a series of posts on Roosmalen's discoveries).

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  2. Yes, as I noted in some of my very early publications, black jaguars are a possibility re certain of the North American mystery black panthers (especially, as you note, those from the Southern USA), and extra-large black domestics are definitey involved re the Australian mystery black panthers. Other identities that may feature in the North American scenario are melanistic bobcats, jaguarundis, and even a large black mustelid called the fisher Martes pennanti, which is sufficiently feline in superficial form to have earned it the colloquial name of 'black cat'. Yes, I have documented Marc's mystery black cat and his many other new or unnamed Brazilian mammals in my book The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals (2012), which was in turn based upon an article of mine re these published in Fortean Times in August 2007. This black cat has a tufted tail, unlike either jaguar or puma, so seems unrelated to the black puma/jaguarete amalgamation, but obviously is still very intriguing.

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    1. I live in S.TX and heard several people talking about seeing a black panther in the area. I wondered if they were seeing a black jaguar, which would have been wonderful on several levels or perhaps the elusive/mythical black puma; cougars are known to live in this part of the state, although now rare.

      So I kept my eyes peeled when I was in those places where I heard this mystery cat had been seen and was utterly surprised to see a large, very dark colored jaguarundi. The first I had ever seen period; not even on a TV nature show nor any wildlife books. I had to look it up on the internet.

      I saw the cat several times over the course of about three years and it was completely understandable how one could mistake it for one of its larger cousins; being a good bit larger than the domestic cat, seen from a mid distance the mistake would be an easy one to make, especially if the cat were in tall grass, disguising the shorter limbs.

      Of course to my shock I was told the animal could not possibly be a jaguarundi when I reported it the TX dept of Wildlife. They do not exist in the this area I was told. They said they did a two year study and found no evidence. Of course, they failed to say that since this is an endangered species if they had found one it may have pissed off more than a few hunters and those rancher that set snares willy nilly, since it would probably have changed some laws involving those activities.

      I doubt that the jaguarundi critters are still around now with all of the industrialization of our South TX plains and brush country. I am sure they have either moved on or perished under the onslaught. It's really too sad to contemplate.

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    2. I live in Humboldt County, Ca. in an area with an unusually high population of bears, mountain lions and bobcats. Our area of about five thousand acres of land closed to the public is bursting with predators of all local types and their prey.
      My wife and I were standing next to my truck talking when I spotted a black mountain lion walking a brushy fence line with a freshly killed rabbit in it's mouth. The cat was in full view at a range of 150 yards on a hillside that sloped downward towards us, allowing for an unobstructed view of his whole body.
      We had seen so many mountain lions over the years that our first reaction was to note the color as it was the first black one we had seen. I used my 10x binoculars to survey its coloring. As far as I could see it was a nice shiny black except for the top of its head which was a very dark brown. Almost black. This cat was young and bold, weighing around 90# and very healthy.
      We were fascinated as much by his hunting technique as his color. He had one rabbit in his mouth and was looking for more. As we were discussing how it might pull off another kill with one already in its mouth he winded two deer on the ridge about 50 yards above it. It crouched low and began a stalk in the open on the deer. That didn't work as the deer were watching him before he caught their scent. They left.
      With the deer gone this young cat realized he was standing in the middle of a 4 acre pasture in ankle high grass. This made him nervous and he made his way into cover with his rabbit.
      The next time he was seen was at close quarters by one of my employees about a week later.
      My guy started a truck that was backed up very close to a black berry patch. As he stepped out of the truck to do his morning inspection of the vehicle the cat came storming from the rear area of the truck and ran by him "like his hair was on fire" was the way he described it. Straight line and over the hill.
      The next man to see it was a professor from MIT that I had been working with for about two years.
      I was to meet him less than a mile from where the two earlier sightings had been. He had no knowledge of this cat prior to his encounter.
      Upon reaching the job site he exited his car and I noticed at once that he was pale and very agitated. I spoke to him and he ignored me as he began to pace back and forth. I figured someone had died. Suddenly he whirled around and said "OK, I'm going to ask you this. Have you ever seen a black Mountain Lion?"
      I couldn't have been more relieved as I informed him this was the third sighting in as many weeks. He looked at me with a stunned expression as he told me that he had been sure he was losing his mind. Never seen a man so relieved.
      He had come around a corner in his car and almost hit it. He was amazed at the leap it had made to escape a collision.
      In talking to the old timers in the area I collected stories of two being killed in the valley over the last 100 years or so by sheep ranchers.
      My family had no idea this cat was so unusual as we had seen many bears of different color phases over the years and figured it was the same sort of thing. Just didn't seem like a big deal until I stumbled onto Dr. Shuker's article.
      Now I wonder years later if I had known about all the controversy; would I have shot it?
      A total of four people saw this cat from all angles and no white was seen in its coat.















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    3. This question of melanistic puma in. southeastern United States was raised again recently when a field camera caught what is obviously a melanistic African Leopard. I am sure a captive release. I owned a wild life sancutary for captive raised wild cats 250lbs and under. I have owned a slate gray puma she would change shading seasonaly and as she aged. When she was wet she appeard blackish and would look black at a distance or in cover. I have worked with other scientist researching Eastern Puma Concolor. All the reports that I have studied from 1940 - present when mentioning a large black cougar in Appalachia have been viewed at some distance. In different lighting and shadows my cougar would appear very very dark. I have also noted the difference in shading on these cats depending on their specific habitat. Many of the cougars I have seen from say Arizona are more reddish those in Colorado are more tan. The Floridia cats are again much different even still.

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  3. Any idea if the alleged white-throated black jaguar may factor into this?

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  4. I have added a small section re the mysterious white-throated Brazilian black jaguar or onça-canguçú to my article above - check it out. All the best, Karl

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  5. This fascinating article certainly answers the question I've often asked myself; "Why have I only ever heard of black pumas with regards to the mystery big cat phenomenon?" Clearly, the scarcity of such creatures is the solution to that.

    I've also always been puzzled by the suggestion of the melanistic jaguar or leopard as a putative identity for such mystery animals. I was of the understanding that such animals are rare mutations even in the countries in which they live naturally. In which case, for any breeding populations to exist in Britain, where black big cat reports seem to be the most common mystery animal sighting, wouldn't we expect more spotted versions to be reported? Or, are there breeding populations, perhaps in captivity, of melanistic big cats? Is that even possible?

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  6. there are indeed breeding melanistic leopards in the UK - I saw one twice in 2000 and another in 2008. Due to the recessive gene black parents only produce black offspring and black leopards were most certainly the pet to keep - alongside puma, lion, leopard cat - in the 1960s and released in the same decade but mostly during the '70s and '80s. I know of no leopards of normal pelage being seen consistently in the British Isles.

    there is no evidence to suggest there are melanistic pumas in the UK. Strangely, I too now own a copy of the 'black puma' print and have mentioned many escapees in my recent MYSTERY ANIMALS OF THE BRITISH ISLES: LONDON book

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  7. http://www.bigcats.org.uk/index.html If you scroll down on this link you will find that there is a picture of a black puma in the Drayton Manor Zoo I hope this helps!

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  8. Hi Julia, Thanks for your message, but the animal in that photo is a black leopard (aka black panther), not a black puma. I know this park's zoo well, as I live quite near to it and have visited it many times. It has a pair of black leopards, but no pumas or normal spotted leopards. All the best, Karl

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  9. The Jaguarete and Felis bicolor sound a lot like they refer to the jaguarundi. The jaguarundi does indeed come in two color morphs, a reddish color and a dark, almost melanistic version which has the lighter, slaty colored underparts. The habits described at one point seem like they could fit this smaller cat as well. And taking into consideration that many reported sightings are going to be from people who are inexperienced or unaware of such a creature, or they are sightings that happen very briefly, at night, or in heavy brush, I think it's quite likely that someone could see a jaguarundi and see it as a creature that is much larger or different than what it actually was, and may try to place it as something they've seen before, like a melanistic puma.

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  10. I've lived in Sarasota county and Charlotte county Fl most of my life and people have seen black panthers more often than cougars including me.In 1966 when I was 12 I was on a school bus going to Englewood from North Port around 8am when I seen a black panther run across the road right in front of the bus.It lept across the road in about 3 leaps and was gone.It was totally black and had a long tail and like I said earlier there has been more sightings of black panthers than cougars.There was a story in the paper in the 80s about a mother with cubs went after a old person on a 3 wheeler and the person had to put the bike between the panther and himself until a car came by and chased it away.

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  11. The Herrero photo appears to be a forced perspective view, with the herdsman standing in line but behind the cat to make it seem bigger - could this be another species or an immature puma?

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  12. Hello, I am fascinated by this article. I am an fictional animal artist and I was wondering if it would be ok to draw some of the fictional cats that were mentioned. I'm not sure about the laws and copyright stuff. :)

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  13. Hi Moxy, Yes, as long as you don't copy the existing illustrations here but prepare your own original ones based upon the verbal descriptions, that's fine, as that doesn't break any copyright laws. I'd love to see any of your fictional cat artwork when you've completed them! All the best, Karl

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  14. Black 'puma' seen several places in this area, several times,several people. As large as a German Shepherd with a very long tail, solid black, stalking small animals, and cats.

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  15. I live in the diablo range of San bonito county CA. The farmers see and kill black pumas all the time. They hang circle hooks of meat from the trees to kill them so they don't attack the livestock. There are sooo many large cats around here. Just this week I saw a 50 lb bobcat that had no spots or any markings.

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  16. The black pumas they see around here are really dark dark brown. They have a short life span, can't reproduce, look scruffy. How they know of the lifespan and reproduction aspects...who knows. It was amazing last week getting that close to a large cat in the wild. I'm talking ten feet away for a few minutes seeming like eternity! The large bobcat last year had all the markings, I thought it a lynx though being around 40 lbs. this one last week was such a solid color and big. Just a faint hint of stripes by the bob of the tail.

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  17. If they kill black pumas all the time, why haven't they ever saved a carcase of one and submitted it for formal scientific identification and examination? To date, no scientifically confirmed black puma has EVER been documented from North America - fact. So if you can obtain a specimen of one of these black felids being regularly killed in your region, please do so and submit it for identification to a local museum, or even a vet. It would be a major scientific discovery if proven to be a genuine black puma.

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  18. I have some VERY recent pics taken from a deer camera in Oklahoma. Can you help me identify it as a potential candidate for being a melanistic puma? We are not sure if it's a leopard, puma, or what but it's definitely out in the woods. I've seen several all over the place... in fact I've seen more black ones than tan but this is the first time that anyone in this area has caught one on camera.

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  19. Hi Jade, Yes, I'd be very interested in seeing your pics. You can email them to me at: karlshuker@aol.com
    All the best, Karl

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  20. My Mom told me that they have a black cougar near her place, eating dogs and deer. I looked up this article and she answered me back with the name of a gentlemen that lives near it and may have taken pictiures of it.

    They are near Poplar Bay, Pigeon Lake, Alberta, Canada.

    If you would like contact info you can send me an email at:

    english.teacher.df@gmail.com

    cheers,
    Kiauhmitl

    PS I once slept in a tent near a cougar in heat that did an amazing shriek howl for probably more than an hour. That was near the town of "Rosebud" in northern california, where they had a large population of cougars in 1993.

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    1. my boyfriend saw one in Alberta yesterday as well. 2 hours from Grande Prairie

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    2. With all due respect, your boyfriend saw something that to him looked like a black puma, but without any physical evidence to examine, such an identity cannot be verified. I receive many accounts from people claiming to have seen black pumas - my response is: if they are so common, why has not a single specimen ever been obtained and scientifically examined anywhere in the whole of North America?

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  21. In 2010 just outside Lyons Mississippi we came very close to running over a very large black cat. This is in the Delta area of Mississippi and with in a few miles of the river. It was night but the cat was in full view in high beam. At first I thought it was two black labs playing in the hwy but as soon as my wife slammed on brakes we could tell it was one large black cat. From the tip of tail to the tip of its nose was over 6 feet. We raise and breed English Mastiffs so we are very used to seeing very big dogs, that being said we did not mistake a house cat or a dog for it. I can not say I saw a black puma but I can say we saw a 6 foot close to 200 pound black cat.

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  22. My mother and I saw a Black Panther near Bemidji Minnesota. It was in the winter it had just snowed. The giant black cat approached the road and we stopped the car. It walked around in front our car, pacing and whipping it's tail. It's coat was shiny and black. It had yellow eyes. It seemed fearless. We turned on our headlights to illuminate it even more and it snarled and then bolted off. We often told people about the event and one day I was informed of another sighting about 4 miles away that same year. It was a huge, pitch black cat, at least 6 feet from it's nose to it's tail. Beautiful and scary.

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  23. It's folklore plus linguistics.

    Every TV-watching kid in America knows that "panthers" are black; their spotted sibs being leopards. Hence, as late as my childhood, when certain parts of the US still popularly called puma concolor "panther" (pronounced "painter"), city folks hearing of it assumed it had to be black.

    By the same token, my peers who went out to the country or woods reported seeing "reindeer"--which were actually odocoileus virginia, and not rangifer at all. However, everyone had heard about Santa Claus and his method of locomotion, even if they never paid attention to the blurbs at the zoo or museum.

    The issue's been with us a long time. A student of pre-Columbian America once informed me that the old Nahuatl word from whence we get "ocelot" really meant the jaguar--but we white folks from the Spaniards on down to Scandinavians, Ashkenazi Jews, and Assyrian Christians applied the term to leopardus pardalis.

    Maybe someone's captive melanistic leopard (or two, or three, or four) escaped or got abandoned and went roaming out in the woods. Otherwise, I suspect such reports are linguistic confusion plus folklore and imagination. But if people reported seeing a "brown panther" in my eastern US neighborhood, then I'd call the wildlife authorities.

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  24. I was really glad that there were two of us seeing this beautiful giant black cat. We can validate each other. We don't care what people want to call it officially but there was no confusion as to what we saw.
    It was a giant, all black cat that looked similar to a mountain lion, maybe a little sleeker, jet black and yellow eyes.

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  25. In the first two books of the 'little house' autobiography series by Laura Ingalls Wilder panthers are mentioned. One in Wisconsin where it hunted Laura's grandfather, the tracks of another were seen by a stream- also in Wisconsin and a third was seen by Laura's father and eventually was shot by a member of a nearby native american tribe.
    The panthers are described as having a high pitched scream that is very similair to a woman screaming and hunt by dropping down onto their prey from trees.
    Here is the most detailed description in the books:

    "One night Pa looked at Black Susan, stretching herself before the fire and running her claws out and in, and he said:

    "Do you know that a panther is a cat, a great, big wild cat?"

    "No," said Laura.

    "Well, it is," said Pa. "Just imagine Black Susan bigger than Jack, and fiercer than Jack when he growls. Then she would be just like a panther."

    He settled Laura and Mary more comfortably on his knees and he said, "I'll tell you about Grandpa and the panther."

    "Your Grandpa?" Laura asked.

    "No, Laura, your Grandpa. My father."

    "Oh," Laura said, and she wriggled closer against Pa's arm. She knew her Grandpa. He lived far away in the Big Woods, in a big log house. Pa began:

    The Story of Grandpa and the Panther.

    "Your Grandpa went to town one day and was late starting home. It was dark when he came riding his horse through the Big Woods, so dark that he could hardly see the road, and when he heard a panther scream he was frightened, for he had no gun."

    "How does a panther scream?" Laura asked.

    "Like a woman," said Pa. "Like this." Then he screamed so that Laura and Mary shivered with terror.

    Ma jumped in her chair, and said, "Mercy, Charles!"

    But Laura and Mary loved to be scared like that.

    "The horse, with Grandpa on him, ran fast, for it was frightened, too. But it could not get away from the panther. The panther followed through the dark woods. It was a hungry panther, and it came as fast as the horse could run. It screamed now on this side of the road, now on the other side, and it was always close behind.

    "Grandpa leaned forward in the saddle and urged the horse to run faster. The horse was running as fast as it could possibly run, and still the panther screamed close behind.

    "Then Grandpa caught a glimpse of it, as it leaped from treetop to treetop, almost overhead.

    "It was a huge, black panther, leaping through the air like Black Susan leaping on a mouse. It was many, many times bigger than Black Susan. It was so big that if it leaped on Grandpa it could kill him with its enormous, slashing claws and its long sharp teeth.

    "Grandpa, on his horse, was running away from it just as a mouse runs from a cat.

    "The panther did not scream any more. Grandpa did not see it any more. But he knew that it was coming, leaping after him in the dark woods behind him. The horse ran with all its might.

    "At last the horse ran up to Grandpa's house. Grandpa saw the panther springing. Grandpa jumped off the horse, against the door. He burst through the door and slammed it behind him. The panther landed on the horse's back, just where Grandpa had been.

    "The horse screamed terribly, and ran. He was running away into the Big Woods, with the panther riding on his back and ripping his back with its claws. But Grandpa grabbed his gun from the wall and got to the window, just in time to shoot the panther dead.

    "Grandpa said he would never again go into the Big Woods without his gun"

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