No Panthers in Mississippi?

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on December 20th, 2006

No physical evidence of panthers in state
12/16/2006 8:55:31 PM
Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal

For Larry Castle, the question is legendary: Do panthers roam the countryside of Mississippi?

"It’s a common call we field," said Castle, director of wildlife for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. "We have looked at numerous videos. There are an untold number of photos. There have been countless examinations."

So the bottom line is "No."

"There is no physical evidence that panthers have been spotted in Mississippi," he said, "with one exception – escaped pets."

A North Mississippi resident found a big, furry surprise one morning when a Florida panther was draped across the hood of his car when he walked out on his driveway. But the animal had escaped from a Tennessee residence.

Castle said the evidence of Mississippi panthers is akin to finding Bigfoot on the Natchez Trace Parkway.

"We approach most reports with a certain amount of skepticism," he said. "The first fallacy is that most people believe the panthers are black. If we have them here, they would be the tawny-brown type."

So when investigators look into reports of black panthers that stand about 6 inches tall, "those are kitty cats," Castle said.

"With the number of game cameras that we have all over the state and the thousands and thousands of photos that they have taken, we would have expected to see one," he said. "We did get one photo that was supposed to be a black panther, but we could tell that someone had doctored the photo."

Those residents who believe they have seen a panther or his tracks, however, should place buckets over the tracks to preserve them, Castle said.

"And we would suggest that they contact Richard Rummel at the Mississippi Museum of Natural History," he said.

Rummel, a wildlife specialist at the museum, can be reached at (601) 354-7010.

About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.

15 Responses to “No Panthers in Mississippi?”

  1. DWA responds:

    I wouldn’t expect a game camera to catch a panther. Not with as few as there likely are.

    But you sure can’t say they’re there without evidence. If populations are recovering, it’s not to the extent that we should expect to see them, I don’t think. But in places, people are.

    And Mississippi’s approach is sure as heck different from what you would have gotten from any state say 30 years ago. Which was: Panther. Sure. Have another drink!

    Times change, and sometimes for the better.

  2. mystery_man responds:

    It is likely that these are escaped exotics and thus are so few that they have not tripped any game cameras. Or maybe the game cameras just happened to avoid the territories of these cats. With all the eyewitness reports, I’m wondering just what is going on over there. It seems to me that these are popping up in areas with reasonable human habitation, so it is interesting that no physical evidence has turned up. I’m curious as to the ascertation made that if there were panthers there, then they would have to be of the tawny brown variety. What is this statement based on? Kittenz, you will probably be hitting up this post, so pass along your opinion on this please.

  3. DWA responds:

    I think that the “tawny brown variety” statement has to do with the assertion by many people that they’re seeing melanistic pumas.

    The puma is not known to have a melanistic phase, but a lot of sightings in the East (Western Maryland, for one place) are reporting them. It’s kind of hard to mistake a black kitty for a mountain lion. The bobcat doesn’t have a melanistic phase either; and I’m willing to accept that the jaguar’s not reoccupying historic range. 🙂

    I could hold out for the possibility that severely depleted numbers are bringing out those recessive alleles. And we’re repeatedly shown that what we know is only what we know today. So maybe. I’ll believe it when I see it.

    But if I were a MS game officer I wouldn’t be holding my breath for black panthers, unless somebody got tired of their melanistic leopard.

  4. sadisticgreen responds:

    I would have thought that the very fact they appear to be showing up near populated areas would be a possible indication of their origin. A wild big cat would be more likely to avoid humans whereas an animal that had previously been kept as an exotic pet would already associate humans with food.

    Just an opinion that. I’m no Lord Attenborough!

  5. cutrer responds:

    I’m from Mississippi, my grand-father worked for the forestry service his entire life and used to tell use about seeing panthers all the time, he may have mentioned a black panther once or twice but can’t really remember. He worked in places that were only accessible by riding his work mule for miles and miles into literally places where people never went.

  6. titantim responds:

    There are definitely Black panthers here in Anderson and Abbeville counties in SC. They have been seen since the early 1980’s. Hundreds of people have seen them with multiple sightings. I myself have seen them at least 7 times and once was within 20 feet of one for about 2 minutes. And it was as black as coal, slick as a button, just a beautiful cat. Probably about 110 to 120 lbs.

  7. javarama responds:

    I spoke to an old man about three months ago who recounted in some detail an encounter with two large black panthers that crossed Bethel road on the east side of the bridge that crosses Tuxachanie creek. This creek runs through Harrison county MS , and is located about 10 miles north of Biloxi.

    The man lives in a small house about a quarter mile east of that bridge on the south side of Bethel rd. I don’t know his name or phone number. If you live in MS , and are looking for info on panthers , you may want to look this guy up. There are numerous goat farms in the area , so I can see how they might do well there.

  8. Jeremy_Wells responds:

    *Sigh*. I’m so tired of this sort of quick print dismissal of reports (whether they be of cats or primates). The reporter here (if this is his complete article) talks to one individual and gets the official quote about animals the state recognizes.

    He fails to ask why the color of the cat (black) is significant (as mentioned in DWA’s post it is commonly accepted that there is no melanistic phase of felis concolor, nor any breeding populations of any hue east of the Mississippi, with the exception of Florida), and he fails to mention any reported sightings, history of sightings, etc.

    I’ve grown up in the woods my whole life and I’ve never seen a black panther. But I’ve heard stories, listened to old-timers describe the “scream” as being “like a woman” or “a baby”, and have even had seasoned hunting partners share with me, in confidence, stories of large tawny cats they have spotted while turkey hunting in Kentucky and Ohio.

    Adams County Ohio is rife with stories of “panthers” and my own father swears that, while staying with his grandmother as a child, a large cat put its forepaws on a window ledge to balance itself while it peered in at him as he lay in bed.

    Maybe there is nothing to the stories being circulated in Mississippi. But the reporter here chooses not to share any of those stories with us, instead jumping straight to the official dismissal phase.

    What I want to know is, why did the paper contact the Department of Wildlife in the first place?

  9. cutrer responds:

    My grand-father did a lot of work in the upper biloxi area, mostly swamps, that’s where he had all of his encounters with panthers.

  10. alanborky responds:


    Setting aside Larry Castle’s generally unfortunate tone, (“those are kitty cats” [And those who claim otherwise? “Those are idiots.”]) I find myself left almost – ALMOST -speechless by his logical processes:

    – because people claiming they’ve seen large black cats refer to them as ‘panthers’, nobody need pay them any heed?

    – because there’s no “physical evidence”, then “numerous videos”, and “an untold number of photos” can be disregarded?

    It may be Larry Castle didn’t intend coming across the way he actually has, but if “numerous videos”, and “an untold number of photos” don’t amount to evidence in his part of the world, then so long as you don’t leave any fingerprints – or footprints – you apparently don’t need to worry about things like CCTV when you hold-up liquor stores in Mississippi.

  11. joppa responds:

    Most Southern wildlife agencies concern themselves with three things:
    1. Deer huntin’
    2. fishin’
    3. Do you have a license for either.

    Their budgets and agendas are controlled by these and they can’t be bothered by any other critter you can’t hunt. Besides, you don’t have to manage habitat for critters that don’t officially exist. If it ain’t there we don’t have to fool with it. So, no sir, we ain’t got no panthers in Mississippi.

  12. kittenz responds:

    Authorities and their references differ as to whether a melanistic phase occurs in pumas. Although some reports of melanistic pumas exist, I have been unable, despite intensive searching, to find a single photo.

    Bobcats do have a melanistic phase. All of the dozen or so specimens that have been found have come from southern Florida.

    Pumas do have dark skin and dark underfur. I think that some of the “black panther” sightings are of normal colored pumas, glimpsed for a few seconds under poor light conditions. Of course, a lot of the sightings are misidentifications too.

    But I would not rule out the possibility of a black phase.

    I think that there are probably pumas in Mississippi, a few anyway. Probably some are abandoned pets, but some are probably pumas dispersing eastward. And there may have been a few there all along.

  13. MattBille responds:

    Castle was saying that numerous videos and photos were submitted that people thought were panthers, but the state’s experts decided they were not of panthers. Nothing new or surprising there. I thought Castle was pretty fair, telling people how to preserve evidence and who to cotnact.

  14. mississippiboy responds:

    I live in lowndes county, mississippi. I hunt and fish, and spend most of my free time in the woods, or on some backroads. I’ve had 2 encounters with panthers in mississippi, and 1 in alabama. Both of the ones in mississippi were brown, but the one in alabama was black. The one in alabama was at a friend’s house; we found tracks the next day. Big paw prints with no claws.

  15. robfergusonjr responds:

    I live in Neshoba County Mississippi. When I was a teenager I would spend time in the forest behind my childhood home near the Indian reservation. While hiking up a hill on a path I saw a panther. Initial I thought it was a cat but noticed the thick tail and coloration of the fur. The big cat was wet and muddied. This was Feb or Mar 1986.

    In Nov 2008 I heard the cry of a “black” panther during the later twilight that evening; I flashed lights toward where I heard the panther and saw the reflected yellow eyes. I walked toward the cat and it steathly moved into the bushes that lined the abandoned dirt road. This too was in Neshoba County. The cry was like that of a child or woman wailng. Years later I haved inspected the area and found carcasses of cows or donkeys on a hill top and along a gully lined by trees with low lying branches. And the occasional patches of feathers from an apparent feast by the cougar on the birds that are in the area. I have yet to find a decent foot print.

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