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California’s Black Panthers

Posted by: Loren Coleman on November 15th, 2008

Take the Cryptomundo challenge: Visit some Bay Area parks and bring back a few good photographs, with scale, of Black Panthers. California, as we all know, is well-known for its long history of Black Panthers.

Bottomline, all joking aside about the two-legged variety, there are not suppose to be any “black panthers” – i.e. melanistic large felids – in California. Yes, mountain lions exist there, but black mountain lions are not verified zoologically. Black leopards and black jaguars are known, but they do not naturally live in California.

But California’s Black Panthers are a cryptid population with a well-established legacy, for example, that inhabits several pages of reports in my book, Mysterious America.

Outstanding outdoors reporter Tom Stienstra of the San Francisco Chronicle, known for his insightful articles on Sasquatch, has tackled the issue of a new wave of Black Panther encounters in the Bay Area. As he notes, the “sudden rash of ‘black panther sightings’ this fall at Bay Area parks has given new spark to the region’s greatest wildlife mystery.”

Despite rumors of released cats (of a decade ago), or of out-of-place jaguars, or of misidentified black domestic cats, the sightings of large, black cats have a long history and continue as a mystery in several Northern California wild sites. Indeed, in Mysterious America, I discuss in Chapter 12 the flap of sightings beginning in 1972 of the melanistic pumas seen on Mt. Diablo and the booklet at the time, which already talked about the “Black Mountain Lion of Devil’s Hole” often seen in Las Trampas Regional Park.

Ten years of rumors of “escaped cats.” Give me a break. The Mt. Diablo and Bay Area Black Panthers have been actively observed for over four decades, at least. I have a report in my files of a melanistic giant cat sighting from Marin County for September 1964.

Stienstra shares some of the recent eyewitness accounts in a section of his treatment he calls, “Seeing is believing.”

Once fooled, twice right: “People seem to think I’m ‘crazy’ when I told them today, that I’ve seen this big black cat that was not a housecat: approximately four feet long or so without the tail, jet black, very beautiful and sleek. I have this big ridge, part of Miller-Knox Park, right in front of my house. Every morning I hike it up to Point Richmond and walk back on the middle-level ridge trails. The first time I saw it I only got a glimpse of it from the side. I saw something black run past me. When I turned my head I just saw the back. I immediately had the thought ‘mountain lion’ and then immediately thought ‘Nah, they don’t have mountain lions here’ and ‘mountain lions are brown.’ I thought that it’s maybe a dog or maybe a deer that looked very dark. Talked myself into thinking that it must have been some kind of black deer. This morning around 8.30 a.m. or so, when I was walking in a little canyon I saw it again. No questions, a big black cat, no housecat, but a large cat. Jet black, no other colors.” – Michaela Graham, Richmond

Like a jaguar in the jungle: “I was curious about EBMUD’s protected watershed off Redwood Road in Castro Valley, so I obtained a permit and checked it out . . . I decided to navigate into the gully, walked maybe 30 or 40 feet to the east and suddenly found myself locked eyes with this big black cat. It was roughly 50 feet from me, through several barriers of logs and overgrowth. The first thought is that it looked like a panther, but the weird thing is that sort of animal should be in Africa, not the East Bay. It was so out of place. – Larz Sherer, Berkeley

Point Reyes surprise: “We came up a short rise through a grassy swale (near Tomales Point), and then, looking up, saw a large, jet-black mountain lion calmly sitting, eyes half asleep looking out at us from about 30 yards away. This lion was not darkish, not a brownish-tawny like some I’ve seen since, but jet black. My friend (Burke Richardson) and I stood there, stunned. It then started to slink away from us in a large semi-circle, attempting to hide in the grass. We were sadly without a camera, which was not like us at all, but, oh well.” – John Balawejder, Santa Cruz

Stienstra also gives a virtual guide to the “Best-chance parks” to visit to observe these Mystery Cats:

Animals resembling “black panthers” or black mountain lions have been reported at these parks and watershed lands in the Bay Area:

Las Trampas Regional Wilderness, San Ramon: Black panther sightings are higher at Las Trampas than any other park in the Bay Area; shocked hikers occasionally show up at the adjacent Las Trampas Stables and tell their tale. The park has ideal habitat for mountain lions, with water (Bollinger Creek), space (5,430 acres plus miles of adjoining EBMUD land) and food (lots of deer and squirrels).

Info: (888) 327-2757, option 3, ext. 4537;

Pierce Ranch, Point Reyes National Seashore: The swath of land from Pierce Ranch to Tomales Point provides the best wildlife viewing in California, home for more than 500 elk, along with deer, foxes, bobcats and mountain lions. Wildlife thrives across the park’s 71,000 acres, with plenty of food, water and protection. The best of it is at Pierce Ranch. From the ridgeline, you also get sweeping views of Tomales Bay to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west.

Note: In one two-hour sequence near the water hole at Pierce Ranch, I counted 13 elk, six deer, three rabbits and a fox, and a week later on a return trip, saw a mountain lion and 200 elk.

Info: (415)464-5100;

Sunol Regional Wilderness, Sunol: Sunol is at the center of an extensive stretch of hilly wild lands. The park covers 6,800 acres, but is surrounded by other parks and watershed lands that encompass more than 50,000 acres. A high density of ground squirrels provides food for the large numbers of golden eagles that spend the winter here. Mountain lions are occasionally spotted above the rim of Little Yosemite by hikers heading out to see the waterfalls on the headwaters of Alameda Creek.

Info: (888) 327-2757, option 3, ext. 4559;

Chabot Regional Park/EBMUD watershed, Alameda County: These adjoining parcels, split by Redwood Road, provide ideal mountain lion habitat and lots of deer. Chabot spans more than 5,000 acres and features gorgeous Grass Valley, eucalyptus forest and adjacent Lake Chabot. East Bay MUD lands here are stunning, with pristine Redwood Creek feeding into huge Upper San Leandro Reservoir.

Note: When the sloped meadow in Grass Valley sprouts fresh growth from winter rains, you can often spot deer browsing in the early morning. Where you find deer, you have a chance to find the critters that eat them.

Info: (888) 327-2757, option 3, ext. 4502; ebparks.com; trail use permits required for EBMUD watershed at (925) 254-3778; form available online at link – click on services/recreation.

Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline, Martinez: This park covers 1,415 acres of hills, bluffs and waterfront along Carquinez Strait. There’s a great shoreline bike ride here, but better yet is the trek up to Franklin Ridge; at an elevation of 750 feet it provides sweeping views of the lower delta.

Note: On one exploration here I came across a herd of goats, including some that looked like unicorns with horns sticking out of their foreheads. You couldn’t ask for better bait for mountain lions.

Info: (888) 327-2757, option 3, ext. 4514;

Miller-Knox Regional Shoreline, Richmond: Some might be surprised that this park is on the list. That is because it’s best known for its gorgeous swimming cove, Keller Beach, located in a protected area at the north end of the shoreline. From here, the wildlands extend north to Point Pinole, an area where mountain lions have been verified multiple times. The park also extends into the Richmond hills, with a ridge connecting to excellent wildlife habitat.

Info: (888) 327-2757, option 3, ext. 4544;

- Tom Stienstra

About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.


10 Responses to “California’s Black Panthers”

  1. shumway10973 responds:

    Nothing really surprises me anymore. California is such a large and dispersed in every way and everything. And if they are alive and living in the coastal mountain range, they are thriving. True, people are encroaching on that area, but that means free, easy food (such critters as ones named fifi). That is what was happening in Los Angeles (I only say was because of the wildfires going on). Man spread into the hills and the mountain lions looked around and said, “Oh, look. Small defenseless dog. How cute. Dinner time…” and that’s what they have been doing ever since (although I don’t know if they officially exist in Los Angeles…sshhhhhh). It seems that nature is taking over again. We have all seen the movies where man almost destroys himself, lives in only a few small areas and nature reclaims everything we built and took. Well, Mother Nature isn’t waiting for us to do something stupid. There are too many reports of animals in larger cities.

  2. Samson77 responds:

    Actually they do live in the hills surrounding LA, in the San Gabriel Mountains. I have seen them in Rancho Cucamonga (45 miles east of LA, just north of Ontario airport).
    If these black cat sightings were farther south, near San Diego, I would guess it would be possible for a Jaguar to make it that far north of the border. But Northern California? Not likely. If the sightings are legit, it almost has to be an escaped exotic.

  3. jtm_kryptos responds:

    sadly i heard of raging forest fires in california now…
    i feel bad for all the Bigfoot, Panthera atrox, and others currently hiding in the southern California forests…

    :(

  4. jtm_kryptos responds:

    mr.77, if i hear that escaped exotic theory again, i’m going to burst, but seriously what’s with those dumb circus train sort of explanations…

  5. MikeinOC responds:

    I have seen a black panther, black jaguar or black mountain lion — whatever is the proper term — in the semi-desert area around Perris, California, back about 1976. My cousin and I were hunting rabbits, and we knew from our friend who owned a large parcel, a ranch owner, before we went out hiking through the scrub-covered rolling terrain that a mountain lion had been killing livestock such as calves and pigs for several months. He said the ranchers wouldn’t mind if we killed it because of the losses they were incurring, but we were not about to do that. While we hiked for miles looking for rabbits, we came across lion tracks in dry creek beds and were on our guard. We also found several bony remains of dead livestock here and there along the way. At the end of our day, as we hiked back the few miles to where our car was parked, off in the distance behind us, about 1/4 mile or so, coming over a rise was what we initially thought was a huge black dog. But after we took out our binoculars, we could see it was a black mountain lion, and it continued slowly trotting in our direction. This concerned us, since we were in wide open terrain and still a long way from our car. I had a mere 22 rifle and fired a few shots off to the side of the animal. But the animal never broke its stride, it just continued trotting and shifted its course roughly parallel to us in the distance, and then continued on its way and disappeared over the rise. It was not scared or alarmed in the least. Needless to say, we were shocked to see the animal, and we told the rancher friend what we had seen. He was surprised to learn that it was a black mountain lion or panther, but he still said the ranchers wished someone would get rid of it. We never saw the animal again and don’t know if it continued its attacks on livestock in the area. But my cousin and I never forgot that unusual sight in southern California.

  6. Eddy-A responds:

    I saw a black panther Sunday March 28th 2010, in Pescadero Ca,

  7. futhark responds:

    The only wild “cougar” I have ever seen was a black one in Briones Park in Contra Costa County running across a clearing in broad daylight one day in the late 1970s, This is a bit ironic, because I currently live in Lake County, which has one of the highest populations of cougars in California. I have seen tracks around here, but never an actual animal. The high school at which I taught for over 30 years in Upper Lake has the cougar as the school mascot and a mounted specimen in a glass case in the school office, but it is tawny, not black. This animal was trapped about a mile from my house in the early 1980s.

  8. Hammerdog responds:

    In the early sixties while out hiking in what is now Briones Park near Lafayette, CA., my two brothers and about three others saw a large black cat that was much larger than any bobcat. We concluded it must have been a black panther or a black mountain lion.. It was daytime and the cat was about 50 feet away down a ravine. It was slinking down low between shrubs but still out in the open. No one ever believed us.

  9. Matt Kinnamont responds:

    I saw what I can only describe as a black mountain lion this past Thanksgiving morning at around 10 am (ie. very good light) in rural Oroville in Butte County, California. It caught my eye as it moved through a small orchard of dwarf citrus on a fenced lot facing 20th Street–the last paved road in this part of Oroville. I was about 50 yards from it at a fence along the roadside. My view of it was unobstructed.

    It was very black. About the size of a smaller labrador, but undoubtedly a cat. It had a very long (as long as his body at least) and uniformly thick tail which it carried off the ground and curved upward. It moved with a lithe grace which I have seen in documentaries about big cats. To me, it looked exactly like a mountain lion–only black.

    When he saw me looking at him (him? her?), then he hunkered down into the grass and was content to be still, and watch me. I could see his ears were rounded–not pointy, like a putty tat. He didn’t move as long as I stayed where I was. When I tried to get a sideways look at him from the outer edge of the orchard, then he started to move northwards. Having no luck getting a better view, I came back to my original vantage point and he hunkered back down into the grass and watched me again. I called a friend on the phone and was talking to him as I watched this cat–I only wish I’d remembered that the phone had a camera!

    One day soon someone tech savy is gonna pull their iphone or droid and get a picture of one of these things and then the mystery will be over. As for me…I’m already convinced.

  10. gabaghoul responds:

    I live in Moraga, near the San Leandro reservoir – lots of undeveloped EBMUD land around us that backs up to the San Leandro reservoir.

    This morning I was driving down the street and saw a large black mountain lion running across the hills above our neighborhood. There was no question in my mind. It wasn’t a dog or a horse (there are horses up there on that hill too, in a corral) – this was a large cat, running very quickly, and it was completely jet-black (not running through shadow). I stopped the car to see if I could catch another glimpse in between the houses that line the ridge, but the cat was gone.

    I know mountain lions are not uncommon around here but have never heard of a black one. Pretty exciting to see that!



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