An exploration of our Earth's ever-captivating fauna through musings on the bizarre side of Zoology, Cryptozoology, Paleontology, and Paleoanthropology

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

An Intriguing Report Of A Black Panther In Kansas

The apparent black mountain lion (Puma concolor) shot in the province of Guanacaste by Miguel Ruiz Herrero in 1959. It is an intriguing photograph which may hold clues as to the identity of mystery 'black panthers', but other factors such as a strange lighting condition or underexposure of the image could have resulted in the animal's dark colored appearance. (Source)
In my personal research, I have had the privilege of corresponding with individuals who claim to have observed unidentified animal species. While I approach these claims with a critical and objective mindset, I still consider it a pleasure to first handedly record such mystery animal descriptions. The reports which I receive most frequently, sometimes with innumerable related comments being left at this blog, involve alleged 'black panthers' (a sort of colloquial term) in North America. Large long-tailed cats exhibiting black pelts have long been reported in North American regions such as Texas, sometimes in compelling conjunction with normal mountain lion individuals (Matt Bille has pointed out that about a quarter of all Eastern cougar reports involve black-colored animals). Although there has yet to be any conclusive evidence, intriguing data such as anomalous hair samples leads me to feel that this phenomenon warrants investigation from mammalogists. Anecdotal data forms only a slim case in zoological science, yet I find it rather interesting that locals of some areas consider 'black panthers' to be usual members of the local fauna rather than anything too unusual or folkloric. As a result, I was rather pleased to find that a man named Mike (full name requested to not be shared) had emailed me a few weeks ago with details of a 'black panther' sighting which he and his father allegedly had in Kansas sometime during the late 1980s. I have received his permission to reproduce the information which he gave me here, along with an aerial photograph of the location where the observation occurred. Mike's supposed observation certainly constitutes an interesting piece of the puzzle in regard to mystery American 'panthers'.
I grew up in Medicine Lodge, KS which is located in south-central Kansas just north of the Oklahoma border. Medicince Lodge (ML) is located between the Medicine River on the west and Elm Creek on the east side of town. ML is also on the edge of the Gypsum or Red Hills, which would make you think of Arizona more than Kansas. Our house was on the east edge of town on a hill (yellow circle). We had one house across the street from us at a lower elevation and we could actually see over that house. I have attached a photo. (The area near town has earthwork taking place since we saw the cat, and the aerial is nothing like it used to be.) Anyway, one summer when I was home from college (late 80’s) my father and I were sitting on our deck in the evening near sunset. We noticed a very dark black animal walking south along a fence line from a small pond. We both initially thought it was a black lab, although nobody around us had one. While watching we both realized at the same time that it was “slinking” along, and the tail was incredibly long. I went in and grabbed the binoculars, and dad actually got his rifle with the scope, and we both watched it move south until we lost sight of it in the grown up brush along the fence line. We absolutely know what we saw was a black panther/cougar. The Kansas Wildlife and Parks still denies the typical cougars in Kansas to this day, although numerous photos by game cameras have been taken, and one even shot in out the county that ML is in a few years back. After talking with several people that lived along Elm Creek, they all basically said that yes we had black cats, and they called them “river cats”. One hunter even had a run in with one with his hunting dogs, and the dogs beat him back to the truck!


  1. Quite intriguing. That's a great account on what happened.

  2. Howdy. Interesting post. You may already be aware of this record:

    There are plenty others to be found, and most advertised on the net can be confirmed with the G&F or natural resource departments of the respective states. The puma population has been steadily increasing and expanding in Wyoming and the other Rocky Mountain states since, and even before, I was doing undergrad work with artiodactyls in the late 80's, though it wasn't and still isn't widely advertised due to the cat's unpopular status with ranchers. Young cats will roam great distances looking for a suitable range with access to mates. Add the propensity for species in the Felidae for melanism, genetic bottlenecking in remaining "eastern" populations, the astronomical odds of enough leopards or jaguars to form a viable breeding population being released in proximity both geographically and temporally, and the volume of sightings across the eastern U.S., "black" cougars from a small population of colonists and/or expanding small local populations are a much more viable explanation of large black cat sightings than released exotics IMO. Exotics tend to be a more popular explanation, however, and proponents of that line have tended to dismiss the black cougar theory with the argument that there is no official documentation of a "black" cougar and that most witnesses would be unable to discern a black leopard or jag from a black cougar, i.e. a witness just sees a black cat and is unable to identify species, a viewpoint I staunchly disagree with.

    I've been investigating BF, out of place grizzly bear, and black panther sightings from central WY to southern CO since the early 90's, as a hobby, and not really as a "serious" researcher. The reason for the lead in is twofold. First, the statement that he saw "a black panther/cougar," is intriguing. This isn't a typical I-saw-a-big-black-cat sighting, the species is specified. Second, your statement, "What I find very interesting about such reports is that locals of some areas consider such alleged carnivores to be usual members of the local fauna, rather than anything too unusual," mirrors my experiences. I've stumbled onto sightings of "black panthers" and "wildmen"in casual conversation, and had people look at me like I've sprouted a horn in my forehead due to my interest in something so "commonplace" to them.

    Anyways, I've followed your blog for quite a while now. First time I actually thought I could add any insight. Cheers.

    1. Thank you very much for this thought-provoking comment. I may actually include this information in an article here, if you don't mind.

    2. I once seen what I thought was a black panther while living in Kansas in the early 80's. Up close

    3. I once seen what I thought was a black panther while living in Kansas in the early 80's. Up close

  3. I know the people who have land just south of this location... within sight of it. Their report is of tracks and calves killed and drug up into trees. Another contact had a sighting to the east near Argonia.
    KS Wildlife and Parks now acknowledges wide ranging cougars traversing the state. I seem to remember them collecting DNA that originated these animals to the Black Hills. However, I don't see a dime's worth of difference between the habitat along the Medicine Lodge River, the Salt Fork, and the Cimarron, and that of the Purgatoire River across the line in Colorado. I have experienced native cougars there. Could we have a native population here? Are there melanistic individuals? They should be easy to spot. Ergo the case with Mike and his Dad.

  4. Interesting account. Nice job.

  5. I live and grew up in the Medicine Lodge area also. In the 80's my parents saw a black panther run out of our barn near Deerhead after hearing it scream. I also have seen one as recently as last weekend. My kids and I were fishing at my uncles ranch north of Lake City, and watched a black panther cougar whatever you want to call it, running across the pasture and down into a deep canyon filled with tall cedar trees. It came out the other side and into the next canyon over. There is no doubt what we saw. It was close enough to see very clearly exactly what it was. We just moved cattle from that pasture a month ago, and I rode those same two canyons myself checking for stray calves. It's kind of spooked me thinking it may have been there watching.

  6. I am skeptical of reports of American "black panthers". Why? Half of the American urban or suburban kids who visit the country and see a whitetailed deer will report they saw "reindeer". Any member of the cervidae to lots of Americans, young and old, is a "reindeer", and they all know "panthers" are black. The latter isn't helped by the fact that earlier generations of Americans who tried to use terms for Old World fauna for New World fauna applied "panther" ("painter", in some localities) to the brown Puma Concolor.

    Some rural character whose grandfather shot the "panther" that bothered the livestock goes out and sees a regular brownish cougar, catamount, mountain lion, puma, or whatever else you call it reports to someone he saw a "panther" (that's what Grandpappy called it, after all). The second person, hearing "panther" then assumes it was black. That's how American "black panthers" came to be.

  7. Any chance the sightings were jaguarundi? I saw one years ago near Topeka, but I am familiar with big cats, and haven't seen any black panthers there...but certain it was a jaguarundi


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