The Cryptid Zoo: Black Panthers

The 1982 film 'The Beastmaster' used this tiger dyed black as a panther. Supposedly real black tigers are just one variety of the many types of black panther that are currently unrecognized by science. This screenshot is copyrighted by those who own the copyright to the film.
"Black panther" is a term that does not denote any particular species of cat. Instead, it refers to any all-black feline that is large enough to count as a big cat. Science only recognizes two types of legitimate black panther. One is the black color phase of the leopard (an animal found in Africa, Asia and, in historical times, parts of Europe). The other is the black color phase of the jaguar (an animal found in South America and Central America, with a historic range that once penetrated into much of the southern United States). A few purists insist that the term "black panther" can only be applied to leopards, but these are in the minority. In both jaguars and leopards, black panthers are often born in the same litter as normal, spotted siblings and do not form a species or subspecies of their own.

Outside of accepted science, there are more varieties of black panther. Some of them are too large to be a jaguar or leopard, or are in a place where no jaguars or leopards are thought to live. Others look like all-black versions of a cat species that is not known to produce such animals, such as black tigers (the darkest confirmed tigers still have orange stripes) or all-black cougars (confirmed black cougars are extremely rare, and all of them so far have had white stomachs, unlike the "black cougars" in sightings). Some of the mystery black panthers have paranormal powers or other very strange features that make them biologically absurd, such as the half-human feline bipeds that are reported from many areas of the world.

Mystery black panthers of various sorts are a worldwide phenomenon, but they gain the most attention in Britain and North America. Some cryptozoologists aren't interested in these reports because they assume all of them must be escaped pets, but others think that these sightings may be clues to a new species. After all, we might be able to use this explanation today, when the exotic pet problem is so bad that you never really know if your neighbor is keeping a tiger, but it doesn't apply very well to historical reports. Mystery black panthers in America have a history that stretches back at least to the earliest European explorers, if not before, and mystery black panthers in Europe date back to well before the Middle Ages.

Of course, the older historical European reports could easily have been due to small relict populations of the Eurasian leopard. In a small population, melanistic genes could have a chance to gain dominance, leading to many more black specimens than usual. A similar argument could be used for North American reports, substituting black jaguars. For example, one type of black panther historically reported from the Ozarks, called the wampus or gally-wampus, has habits that resemble those found in a jaguar.

Some black panther reports from areas of the world where real black panthers exist still get classified as cryptozoology mysteries. Reports of a gigantic black cat, bigger than any black jaguar, come from Brazil, Bolivia and Peru. This animal is eleven feet long, with an all-black coat of fur and huge green eyes. It is restricted to remote rainforests at high altitudes, and sometimes preys on humans. It is variously called the jaguarete, the "black tiger" and the yana puma (which means a black cougar, an animal that this big cat could not possibly be unless all descriptions of it are entirely wrong).

Some researchers say that mystery black panthers in America represent a surviving hidden population of a prehistoric cat, Panthera atrox, an animal that is also used to explain sightings of American Lions.

You can find out more about mystery Black Panthers from the following sources:

Benjamin, R.W. Beast Of Bodmin Moor

The British Big Cats Society Official Website

Clark, Jerome and Coleman, Loren. Cryptozoology A-Z. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999. Pages 44-45, 149, 195-197

Clark, Jerome. Unexplained!. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1999. Pages 222-226

Coleman, Jerry D. Strange Highways: A Guidebook to American Mysteries & the Unexplained. Alton, Illinois: Whitechapel Productions Press, 2003. Pages 41-50, 53-54, 100, 182
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Coleman, Loren. Mysterious America: The Revised Edition. New York: Paraview Press, 2001. Pages 8, 13, 19-22, 25, 39, 105, 107-159, 287, 292-296

Keel, John A. The Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings. New York: Doubleday, 1994. Page 32

Moggycat. Anomalous Felids

Newton, Michael. Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology: A Global Guide to Hidden Animals and Their Pursuers. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2005. Pages 16-17, 34, 42-47, 49-54, 56, 67-68, 81-82, 114-118, 140, 149, 155, 157-158, 173, 179, 183, 189, 202, 215, 222-223, 260-261, 263, 298-299, 319, 325, 348, 353, 354, 369, 437, 442, 448, 451, 454, 459, 460, 463-464, 466, 483, 485, 493, 498

Randolph, Vance. We Always Lie to Strangers: Tall Tales From the Ozarks. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1974. Pages 57-59

Shuker, Karl. The Beasts That Hide From Man: Seeking the World's Last Undiscovered Animals. New York: Paraview Press, 2003. Pages 80-83, 280

Shuker, Karl. Mystery Cats of the World. London: Robert Hale, 1989.

Taylor, Troy. Phantom Panthers & Big Cats of Illinois

Weidensaul, Scott. The Ghost with Trembling Wings: Science, Wishful Thinking and the Search for Lost Species. New York: North Point Press, 2002. Pages 126-127

Wikipedia, The. Black Panther

Wikipedia, The. Ozark Howler

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The text on this page is copyright 2007 by Jamie Hall. Please use proper citation if you are using this website for research.