Skip to comments.Big cats in South Texas
Posted on 02/17/2004 3:37:22 PM PST by SwinneySwitch
Black panther sightings likely to be mountain lions.
Over the years there have been numerous sightings of large cats in Bee County. Among those sightings are some of black panthers; however, wildlife experts are unanimous and emphatic when they say no such animal exists.
From a Jan. 10, 2004, sheriffs report, A resident of the 3100 block of CR 406 reported a beautiful, big, black panther in a wooded area near her home. In the spring of 2003, a sheriffs deputy reported a large black cat crossing the road in front of his vehicle while on patrol.
According to Michael Tewes, coordinator of the Feline Research Program and professor at the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute of Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Some people call African leopards, panthers, but I havent seen it yet in the U.S. It seems like a lot of people will say they have seen black panthers. There would have to be a road kill or other form of physical evidence for documenting it. He added, More than likely these many black panther sightings are mountain lions.
According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Web site, The mountain lions color is a light, tawny brown which can appear gray or almost black, depending on light conditions. Contrary to popular belief, there are no black panthers; no one has ever captured or killed a black mountain lion.
The term black panther is quite often used to describe large black cats, but there is no one distinct species of wild cat called a black panther. When a photo of a black panther is published, it is most likely a leopard or possibly a jaguar with melanistic coloration. The term melanistic is from the word melanin, a dark colored skin and hair pigment. In cats, melanism results in the fur of the animal being very dark or black in color. In many cases, the usual markings of the animal can be faintly seen through the dark fur. Melanistic leopards are more commonly found in dense tropical rain forests of Southeast Asia.
In South Texas, Tewes is certain the only big cat is this area is the mountain lion. An adult mountain lion is between three and four feet long with a tail of two and half to three feet. Its height at the shoulder is between 25-30 inches and it can weigh anywhere from 70-170 pounds. These cats are solitary, except during breeding. Young, usually two to three cubs, can be born almost any time of the year. Females usually breed every two to three years.
According to Tewes, A mountain lion is also known a puma, cougar, panther and catamount. All of these names refer to the same kind of animal. In Florida, they have what they call the Florida panther, but it is the same species. They just call it a panther. He added, There are 37 species of cats in the world and only lions, or African lions, and cheetahs are social. The rest are solitary creatures with the exception of mating season.
The mountain lion was at one time one of the widest ranging animals in this hemisphere from Canada to South America. Tewes added, In the continental United States, they are now found in the Western 13 states and in Florida. Historically, they were found in most of U.S., but the Eastern cougar disappeared many years ago. He continued that an individual mountain lion has a range of 5 to 7 miles across. In South Texas, not as large a range is required because there are more deer, javelina and feral hogs.
Asked about their food source and whether or not they were a threat to livestock, Tewes answered, Deer is their primary prey. We had 19 mountain lions with radio collars between Freer and Cotulla. They were eating deer, javelina and feral hogs. Tewes and his associates are currently conducting a genetic study of mountain lions in the state through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, comparing present-day mountain lions with bones from those at the turn of last century.
Other wild cats have been sighted in the area. Bobcats the most common wild cat in Texas.
Several years ago in Bee County, Bill Dugat took an interest in cats. He had hunted tigres in Mexico and also took in bobcats and other wild cats as pets. His daughter, Diana Braly, recalled, We had a (wild) cat he kept on the back porch that could jump, flat footed, to as high as my dad could hold a piece of meat. And my father was over six feet tall. That cat later attacked my mother and dad traded it to the San Antonio Zoo for peacocks. She added, My father always said there is no such thing as a black panther.
Jimmy Jackson, a local historian and nature enthusiast, recalled Dugat placing an advertisement in the Bee-Picayune offering a substantial monetary reward for anyone who could bring him physical proof of a black panther.
Other smaller cats are also reported with regularity in Bee County. Tewes recalled seeing reports from 60s and 70s of ocelots south of Beeville. The ocelot is an endangered cat, he said. I dont know of the jaguarundi around here except in the Rio Grande Valley.
In other words, dont hold your breath looking for a black panther.
Anyway, we've got some "big cat" in the brush near our house!
There is photographic evidence of (non-black, dappled) jaguars last year in Arizona. Some jaguars can appear black. It is not impossible for "black panthers" to be in South Texas.
Cougars have returned to the North East, having migrated from Canada. They are probably back in upstate New York.
Clearly a case of racial profiling.
They used to live all along the Gulf Coast. We occassionally have reports around here (Mobile) that 'sounds-like' a description of a Jagarundi.
|A camera trap set in Arizona near the United States-Mexican border has captured a wild jaguar on film.|
Texas is also famous for jackelopes.