The odds are that the person saw an unusually large house cat and in the fog did not accurately judge its size. But if several eyewitness all agree that it was too large to be a house cat, then indeed maybe we all should consider that it there just might be a large black feline on the prowl. But it almost certainly is not a young leopard or jaguar.
Neither is it likely to be a bobcat or a mountain lion, two native large feral feline species. While melanism is fairly common in the feline family, there is not a single validated record of a black mountain lion to have ever existed. Likewise, black bobcats are unknown and besides, bobcats have that unusual half-length tail that they keep out-stretched behind them; it’s hard not to notice.
As unlikely as this may sound, unless a large black feline has escaped one of a local wildlife refuge, the most likely identification of a large feral black feline with a long tail is a “black panther.”
Now the word “panther’ is a common name that is used to refer to mountain lions in some regions of this country. “Panther” is also a commonly used name for leopards, especially the black color-phase of leopard that is found in both Asian and African populations. I’m placing “black panther” in quotation marks because I’m not referring to either of those cat species. I’m referring to one of America’s most commonly observed mystery animals.
“Black panther” sightings have been reported in North America since European settlers hit the shores. There are sightings in every state in the United States, including Alaska and even Hawaii. There have been reported sightings in the countryside and in the city, and at all times of the day and night. Some “black panthers” have been seen at a distance and others have been so close that the witnesses reported smelling their breath. Some black panthers have been credited with killing livestock, some have been witnessed in the act. Some have threatened people, but there are no reports of them actually contacting a human. Most just seem to appear–for instance suddenly crossing the road in front of a car–and then go out of sight.
Usually there is a rash of sightings in an area that might last for a few months up to a year and in a few cases even longer; then the animal just ceases to be seen. No “black panther” has ever been captured or killed in North America.
What are they? No one knows. They seem to be big black cats but exactly what they are and why people keep seeing them is a mystery. It’s a situation similar to the sasquatch or bigfoot phenomenon, but “black panthers” have never had the publicity that follows bigfoot.
There are numerous books on the topic of cryptozoology with chapters devoted to the “black panther” phenomenon; the authors have documented case after case of just plain folks, including policemen, mayors and other solid citizens, who reported seeing “black panthers.”
Many reports included some mysterious aspect with an otherwise very normal animal observation, seemingly a combination of real and unreal events. For example, a group of several witnesses, including a state policeman and a mayor, standing on a highway bridge, observed a “black panther” walk across a sandbar, crouch down at stream-side to drink, and then walk back to disappear into the woods; closer investigation by the witnesses showed the cat left no tracks in the soft damp sand. There are numerous reports of “black panthers” being shot at close range, only to bound away apparently unharmed.
Just like with UFOs and bigfoot, many people who see “black panthers” never report them. I personally know two people, each a keen naturalist with a lot of animal experience, who had good looks at “black panthers,” but they weren’t quick to tell about their experiences. So keep an eye out for a “black panther.” Maybe some of you have already seen one.