Reports of “black panthers” roaming the wilds of Texas are persistent.
I have personally gathered hundreds of these reports, some of which sound very much like a wild cat of some kind.
I remember having a discussion with late TFG Editor Don Zaidle more than 15 years ago and he asked if I thought any “black panther” reports might be jaguarundis. Soon after I saw one of these cats in the wild and then it clicked. Most people do not even know such a cat exists and if they saw one in the wild “black panther” would be a fitting name.
Jaguarundis are a medium-sized cat with a mean body size of 102 centimeters for females and 114 for males according to Mexican researcher Arturo Caso. Other sources list them as ranging from 100 to 120 centimeters with the tail making up the greatest part of the length.
Most specimens are about 20 centimeters tall and sport a dark gray color while others are chocolate brown or blonde.
Jaguarundis are known to range from South America to the Mexican borders of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. The key word here is “known”. That means scientists have observed or captured the species within those areas, however they are reported to range much farther north in the Lone Star State and perhaps elsewhere.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) officials solicited information from the public and received numerous reports of the species in the 1960s, including several sightings from central and east Texas. Additional sightings were reported from as far away as Florida, Oklahoma, and Colorado
In a study conducted in 1984, TPWD biologists noted a string of unconfirmed jaguarundi sightings in Brazoria County, which corners the hugely populated areas of both Houston and Galveston.
My friend Jim Broaddus of Bear Creek Feline Center in Panama City, Fla. has some of the only captive jaguarundis in America and is involved in a project called “The Search for Little Foot” that is looking for the mysterious cats in Florida.
Our Kingdom Zoo: Wildlife Center will bring the project to Texas looking for these cats on some properties along the Texas-Mexico corridor and in other locations with game cameras. It’s super exciting and the best part is we will have kids involved in setting out and monitoring the cameras.
If you have a jaguarundi photo or would like to help with the project email [email protected]
I don’t think jaguarundis are the entire answer for the black panther phenomenon but I do believe they are a big part of it.
We’ll investigate further in part two of this installment.
Chester Moore, Jr.