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Jaguars in Arkansas?

by Richard Mason | February 1, 2023 at 5:00 a.m.

Okay, first it was cougars, which our Game and Fish Commission said were probably released pets. Well, they have been rather quiet since cougar sighting have now exceeded 60, and of course my wolf sightings, of which I have 14 so far with another two recent pics.

But, have I just lost it, and the next thing I'll be checking for will be passenger pigeons?

Maybe, but first let's check out the jaguar sightings -- and this is not a really an off-the-wall waste of time. Stay tuned.

Recently, I noted another article about what a lot of folks, especially Southerners, call "black panther" sightings. Over the years, I have always figured that maybe it was dark and they really couldn't see the big cat's color, or maybe it was a bobcat.

Many times a sighting was late in the day or at night, and the person seeing the big cat just thought it was black, but I have had second thoughts after talking with a couple of folks in the cougar spotting survey. They were certain the big cat was black.

I thought maybe these folks really did see a black cougar or mountain lion. Growing up in south Arkansas, I was very familiar with the term, "black panther." However, after I read a short piece from the Mountain Lion Foundation, I started to wonder.

This quote below is from the Foundation, and I would think it is a definitive statement:

"Many people have heard the term 'black panther,' but these are actually melanistic jaguars or leopards: a genetic trait that makes an individual cat's fur appear much darker than the usual coloration. To date there has never been a confirmed case of a melanistic (black) mountain lion."

Ok, if the Mountain Lion Foundation is the ultimate source for cougar info, what are the big, black cats that have been sighted by numerous individuals, mostly in the south?

When I did a cougar survey, two of the sightings were definitely big black cats. I asked both, one of whom was a medical doctor and the other a grandmother, were they sure these big cats were black? They said there wasn't a doubt in their mind that the big cats were black.

There are numerous other big, black cat sightings reported on the Internet. Here is a sample from a Tennessee sighting:

"Rusty and Linda McClanahan were sitting in a blind watching for deer late one afternoon in a Cumberland Plateau woodland in Tennessee when they saw something wildlife experts insist don't exist. A coal-black panther walked in front of the blind, stopped and stared at them, then whirled and bounded away.

'It was 12 feet away,' says McClanahan, a veteran outdoorsman who has hunted in 11 states and seen numerous panthers – also known as mountain lions. 'It came walking down a trail, stopped, looked at us, then it went loping off. It never made a sound.' Linda said she was 'terrified, and had trouble breathing for a few minutes.'"

This sighting is from a seasoned hunter, and it was confirmed by his wife, a witness.

If there are no black mountain lions, and numerous individuals are certain the big cats they saw where black, and if the Mountain Lion Foundations firmly says there has never been a confirmed case of a black mountain lion, what are the big black cats?

I don't think anyone would consider these "black" cats' leopards, but what about jaguars?

During historical times (late 1500s onward), jaguars were reported in much of the southern United States. Their accepted range included parts of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and Louisiana (Alanen, 2015; USFWS, 2012). Other historical sources place jaguars in most of the South, even up to the Carolinas. During this time, mountain lions and jaguars shared the same range.

I think there are two obvious options for what to believe.

The first is that these sightings aren't mountain lions, they are jaguars, and they have been present in the original jaguar range for centuries. It may be that the black ones were able to survive when the normal spotted jaguars were killed off by hunters or government trappers.

The second possibility is, from all the historical evidence, jaguars and mountain lions were both present in much of the south during their original range, and interbreeding could have occurred. That is the other possibility -- that these big black cats are actually the result of interbreeding between jaguars and cougars.

They can certainly interbreed. Siegfried and Roy, Las Vegas Showmen, bred them. They had two called Ali and Chico. (From the Internet). It would be similar to the interbreeding between coyotes and wolves.

It seems to me that unless you discount the hundreds of confirmed sighting in the south and southwest of big, black, long-tailed cats, you must explain why they aren't cougars, because the Mountain Lion Foundation said they don't exist.

Officially, big black cat sightings have been discounted by saying most of the sightings were in dim light, or they were of bobcats, or even large feral domestic cats. However, a number of the sightings come with photos, and that makes discounting them rather difficult.

Of course, there have been a number of other big black cat sightings here in Arkansas, and while some of them were questionable, because of distance or it being night, others were hard to deny because photos were taken.

Here is another confirmed sighting of a big black cat in Arkansas, and this report is from a very reliable source. This sighting is from near the town of Kibler in Crawford County, and the sighting is a very credible one since it come with photos and it was Kibler's Police Chief that saw the big cat.

Chief Green says he spotted one while hunting.

He was sitting in his hunting blind back in November when he says he saw a rather unusual sight.

"I have seen deer, squirrels, rabbits, big rabbits. This time it was a black panther," Green said.

He took out his cell phone and took photos of a big black cat. "I thought I had to get footage of this because so many people are saying there's no black panthers in this area. I even believed it myself until I saw it, and then I knew I was witnessing something I had heard about for years," Green said.

I don't think we can get a sighting any more definitive than that, since Police Chief Green said he has a pictures to prove it.

It seems to me that we either have actual jaguars in the south, and in the State of Arkansas, or we could have interbred cougars and jaguars. I don't have a clue if offspring from a cougar and jaguar could be black, but we could easily have both jaguars and couguars. (My new word)

Well, let's do another survey. If, sometime during the past five years, you spotted a big "black" cat, which you thought was a cougar, send me an email.

Richard Mason is an author and speaker. He can be reached at [email protected]

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