BIG BLACK CATS MORE THAN A HALLOWEEN PHENOMENON?
October 28, 2012
from a few Halloweens ago provides the answer to the question below.
son swears he saw a black panther in a wooded area while he was hunting.
Could this be true?
the last 30 years I have had no fewer than a dozen people tell me they
have seen a black panther. We are not talking about in zoos, books or
movies, but in the wild at various places in the southern United States.
Are the stories true? Do giant black cats exist in North America? From
an ecological and genetic standpoint, black cats have an element of
mystery that has nothing to do with superstition or Halloween.
panther of jungle lore certainly exists. Black phases of leopards in
Asia and Africa and of jaguars in tropical America occur in the wild.
The genetic phenomenon known as melanism, which results in an individual
being almost completely black, occurs in many mammal species in which
shades of white, gray, tan or brown are typically more prevalent. Melanism
has been documented in coyotes, gray squirrels and even rarely in white-tailed
deer, producing almost pure black individuals.
instances a native U.S. species of large cat, the bobcat, can be completely
black. Bobcats occur throughout most of the United States, southern
Canada and Mexico. Photographs and museum skins offer scientific verification
that such individuals exist. Most of the verified records are from Florida,
but at least one black bobcat was found in eastern Canada. Presumably,
the genetic condition that causes a bobcat to be black could occur geographically
anywhere in between Florida and Canada.
report seeing a black panther in the wild in North America,
they usually mean the mountain lion (aka cougar, puma, catamount). And
reports of people seeing black mountain lions abound. Yet, no photograph,
no carcass, no scientific proof of any sort has ever been provided to
indicate that a mountain lion can be solid black. This does not mean
that a melanistic mountain lion does not exist somewhere or did not
exist in the past. It only means that its existence has not been verified.
I can give
several plausible explanations for why someone in the Southeast might
claim to have seen a black panther. The first is that the person saw
a black bobcat. Confusing a bobcat for a mountain lion may sound far-fetched
because bobcats are smaller and have shorter tails, but I know this
can happen. I have gone to look at three different road-killed cats
in South Carolina that someone had declared was a dead mountain lion.
All were large bobcats.
explanation is that a person might mistake a large, long-tailed, dark-colored
dog or coyote for a big cat, particularly at night or in fading light.
To the embarrassment of two different individuals who made such sightings,
the animals left footprints that were made into plaster casts for identification
dog feet both times.
possibility exists in many southern states where it is legal to keep
big cats as pets, including tigers, leopards and jaguars. The black
varieties of leopards and jaguars are proportionately more common among
captive animals than in the wild because of selective breeding. Having
a big cat escape from a zoo or a personal holding facility is certainly
not unheard of. A big cat owner might be reluctant to admit that an
enormous, stealthy predator had been unleashed in the neighborhood.
So such a sighting would not be validated by the pet owners saying,
Hey, thats my missing black leopard.
explanation for people who believe they have seen a large, long-tailed
black cat in the wild is that they actually did see a black mountain
lion. Maybe they exist but are so rare that the carcass of one has never
been found. Halloween is probably not the best time to be believed if
you report such a sighting, but if you see one, it just might be real.
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