Ask any member of the zoological community and they will tell you that North America only has three types of native wild cats. These native felids are the Cougar, Felis Concolor, the Bobcat, Felis Rufus, and the Lynx, Felis Lynx. However, in recent years the zoological community has been amazed to find that what they have come to believe regarding big cats in North America may not be as clear cut as they once thought. Studies in Arizona have recovered pictures of Jaguars crossing through the countryside at night. Further more, Texas may soon be forced to accept that they have a new invader from the south, in for form of a South American feline known as the Jaguarundi. In addition, North America may also be the home of a legendary felid, the Black Panther.
The known cats labeled Black Panthers, which are sometimes seen in zoos, wildlife documentaries and in their native habitat are actually melanistic forms of the Leopard, Panthera Pardus, which is found in Africa and throughout most of Asia, parts of Europe and the Middle East. Less frequently these Black Panthers are a form of melanistic Jaguar, Panthera Onca, which are found most commonly throughout South and Central America. Melanism is an abnormal amount of melanin in the upper layers of the skin and hair which occurs as the result of a genetic mutation in some fetid species. It does not produce a completely black individual, instead though appearing black, under close examination one will find that the coat is actually a very dark brown.
Some times referred to as North American Black Panthers, or a N.A.B.P., a term used by researchers to separate the confusion that occurs from the general term Black Panther, these mystery cats have been reportedly sighted as far back as the colonization of the new world. However, most evidence points to sightings only being as distant as the end of World War II. Most reports indicate that Black Panthers are not just the misidentification of known form of fetid but rather a mixture of traits found only in separate well documented species. For example, the North American Black Panther is often described as being approximately 40 to 48 inches in length, about 20 to 24 inches in height, with a very long tail, a head built like a bulldogs, glowing red eyes and of course, it’s completely black in color.
Let’s take a moment to analyze this description, the length of the creature would seem to indicate a mid sized to large felid, however, the reported height seems to be more inline with that of a smaller felid, such as a bobcat or a lynx. The tail length, sometimes described as at least the length of the body, if not longer, is usually only described in encounters with the extremely rare Snow Leopard, Panthera Unica. The bulldog like head is usually a description associated with a Jaguar, while the glowing red eyes are considered a common natural occurrence, taking place when incoming light is reflected off the retinas of certain animals.
So with no description matching any one known fetid we are left to ponder just what this North American Black Panther may be. Researchers looking into this phenomenon have presented several theories as to just what the real identity of the mysterious Black Panther is. One of the most common of these theories is that of a melanistic cougar. Sightings of cougars in North America are on the rise; however doubt is cast upon this theory as the fact remains that there have never been any officially confirmed reports of melanistic cougars, either in captivity or the wild.
The next most common theory suggests some of the jaguars or leopards which have been released or escaped into the wilds of North America may have began a breeding population which produced a melanistic offspring. While this theory has some validity, its biggest drawback is the fact that there have been no sightings of the more commonly colored jaguar or leopard anywhere in North America.
Another theory suggests that the North American Black Panther may be a possible subspecies of Jaguarundi, which has lived in North America all along and remained undetected by science. While many of the eyewitness reports do confirm the likeness of the N.A.B.P. to that of the Jaguarundi, there has been a dispute over the size of the creature’s head. This dispute focuses on the fact that the Jaguarundi’s head is small and built more for smaller prey items, were as the head of the North American Black Panther, according to eyewitness accounts, seems to be larger and built more for larger prey items.
One of the more recent, and more controversial theories to surface was introduced by renowned cryptozoologists Loren Coleman and Mark Hall and suggests that a relict population of the Pleistocene’s Panthera atrox, which once inhabited North America, may has survived to present day. This felid, sometimes called the Cave Lion, was an intelligent and aggressive creature which may have been sexually dimorphic, causing the females to be a black color while the males would be the more common tawny color. This theory has been met with two main arguments, that first being that this theory is based on the survival of a prehistoric animal; the second is that if sexual dimorphism were to occur in a species it is much more likely to appear in the male of the species more than the female.
A final theory suggests that the North American Black Panther may actually be an unknown fetid, native to North America, which has remained undiscovered. Though this theory is unlikely, the fact remains that every year science discovers hundreds of new species. Though most of these discoveries are made in remote locations and are normally of smaller species rather than large land mammals there are exceptions to the rule. One such exception, though located in a remote rainforest, was the discovery of the clouded leopard in the rainforests of the Indonesian Islands of Borneo and Sumatra in 2007.
It does not seem likely that a large mammal, like the North American Black Panther, could remain hidden in an area as populated as North America; however sightings of these creatures continue to this day. With civilization continuing to expand into more remote and unpopulated areas of North America it may only be a matter of time before we discover the true identity of these North American Black Panthers.
There is currently no physical evidence to support the existence of North American Black Panthers, a hair sample was recovered during one investigation, however DNA samples came back inconclusive.
No documented sightings of the North American Black Panther could be found at this time.
The Stats – (Where applicable)
• Classification: Hybrid
• Size: Approximately 40 to 48 inches in length and about 20 to 24 inches in height
• Weight: Unknown
• Diet: Carnivorous
• Location: North America
• Movement: Four legged walking
• Environment: Forested and mountainous regions