Black Panthers: Did Such an Animal Ever Exist?
By W. T. Block
I have an article on my website (http://wtblock.com/wtblockjr) inquiring: “Are the black panthers extinct?” The article seems to attract much attention since I have had 3 inquiries in my guest book since Jan. 1st. It is also legitimate to ask: “Did such animals ever exist?”
As a child during the 1920s, I listened to many panther stories from the old-timers, and their common description for them was “black panthers.” On the other hand, Galveston News microfilm between 1842 and 1914 published many instances of panthers encountering humans, including some human deaths, but never once that I recall did the paper refer to the animal’s color as black.
The only panthers referred to in current literature are the Florida (felis coryi) panthers of the Everglades, which are actually charcoal gray in color, and are the most endangered species in America. Nevertheless between 1972 and 2002, there were 44 panthers killed on the highways there, and in Oct., 2002 two Florida biologists rescued 2 panther kittens, the mother of which had been killed.
My dictionary describes a panther as a “cougar, puma, or mountain lion, as well as the black mutations of the African leopard or South American jaguar;” it does not mention any such mutation of the cougar. However, a century ago, a small jaguar, known in Texas as a “Mexican lion,” drifted as far north as the Arizona border, and sometimes crossed the Rio Grande River into Texas. Today it is known that a few West Texas cougars (felis concolor) have wandered into East Texas.
Apparently some people believe the “black” panther never has existed. Writing on a Missouri Conservation website, “Bow Hunter” said: “Some of you are quick to point out that there is no such animal, and call us liars.” One of his critics replied: “Black panthers are not native to North America. Nor has there ever been one killed by a car, or the carcass of one turned in; no one has ever provided any verified proof.” The latter added: “I guess black panthers are the ghosts that can move around without leaving a sign...”
So what is the actual truth? I get dozens of emails in response, some swearing they have had a black panther in their gun sight in broad daylight, but was unwilling to pay that $5,000 fine that their state imposed. A Mr. Chaisson of Orange County says that he not only saw a Black Panther mother in daylight on Cow Bayou, but also saw 2 of her kittens trailing her.
I would be the last person to suggest that some one shoot such an endangered animal just to prove that its fur was black. It would be nice though if some one could tranquilize one that could later be returned to the wild.
Ryan and Lisa Knott, who are publishers of Warren Weekly in Warren, Texas observed the following: “I have a family of panthers living behind our house, but only my son and I have seen one. They come out sometimes at night and walk along the side of our dirt road. You can see their tracks if you get out there before the wind or rain erase them. I have heard them on a couple of rare occasions, and it sends a chill right through you! Sounds like a woman's scream. I have a Great Dane that 'tied into' the panther late at dusk one night in our yard, and the cat stood as tall as the Great Dane. So I know for a fact they that they are there, but it is so strange they're hardly ever seen. The one time I saw the panther it was charcoal gray, not black, but the one my son saw was black. So I guess there are different colors among our big cat neighbors...”
Gary Mathis wrote on Jan. 2 that about 7 years ago, a man living near Silsbee raised a black panther kitten as a pet, and that it, when grown, could often be seen in the man’s car when the latter shopped in Silsbee. Jerry King of Marthaville, LA., says he saw a black panther cross a Louisiana highway in front of him.
Chester Moore, formerly manager of the J. D. Murphee Wildlife Area near Port Arthur, wonders if some persons are not mistaking the South American jaguarundi (felis yagouarundi), now known to exist in much of Texas and Louisiana, for a panther. Its color varies from rusty red to charcoal gray, and although its head very much resembles a panther, it is much smaller. An adult jaguarundi weighs only about 20 pounds as opposed to an adult panther, which might weigh 150 to 200 pounds.
On Sept. 17, 1881, two Negro loggers, named Henry Winters and Alfred Creswell, were walking along the East Texas Railroad near Lumberton when they were attacked by 2 large panthers. They fought the 2 panthers for 30 minutes, using only large sticks, before the cats abandoned the fight, but their trousers were virtually ripped off and they suffered long scratches. In 1897, Robert Jordan, while aboard the cotton steamer R. E. Lee at Brice’s Landing on Sabine River, shot a panther out of a tree and had it stuffed and mounted in the ship’s wheelhouse.
I would appreciate hearing from anyone in Texas or Louisiana, who believes he has sighted a panther, black or otherwise. I would like to add their comments to my website. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail at 192 Hill Terrace, Nederland, TX. 77627.