Black Panther Killed: What Species Is It?

Posted by: Loren Coleman on May 21st, 2008

The breaking news headline says it all: “Deputy kills jaguar … or was it leopard?”

Neosho, Missouri — A Newton County deputy shot and killed a large, black cat of uncertain species Monday morning, May 19, 2008, when the animal, either a leopard or a jaguar, charged him.

Capt. Richard Leavens of the Newton County Sheriff’s Department said Vickie Sanders, 61, called shortly after 6 a.m. Monday to report what she took to be “a black panther” at the door of her home at 9555 Orchid Drive, southwest of Neosho.

When Cpl. Donn Hall of the Sheriff’s Department arrived, he spotted a large, black cat standing on its hind legs and pawing at a storm door of the home.

“When he got out of his car, it charged him,” Leavens said. “He fired on it and wounded it. It ran past him to the end of the driveway and then came back at him.”

Hall left his patrol car with a shotgun and fired two shots on the cat’s initial charge, Leavens said. As the cat charged a second time, Hall fired additional shotgun blasts and then pulled his .45-caliber Glock handgun, he said.

“It took several shots with that to get one that took effect,” Leavens said.

Hall escaped any injury from the cat, as did Sanders and her dogs, Leavens said.

Sanders had been hanging some laundry on a clothesline in her yard when the cat appeared and started toward her, Leavens said. She told the Sheriff’s Department that one of her dogs “intercepted” the cat, allowing her time to get inside her home along with her dogs.

The cat then began pawing on the door of the home and kept it up until Hall arrived, Leavens said.

A state Conservation Department officer was called to the scene after the animal was killed. While the species of the animal was not immediately certain, the suspicion was that it was not accustomed to living in the wild.

“This most likely was a kept animal that either had been dumped out or had gotten away,” Leavens said.

He said officers could see, after it had been killed, that its claws had been surgically removed.

He said there has been some speculation that the cat might have been on the loose in the wake of the recent tornado damage in the region.

Source: “Deputy kills jaguar … or was it leopard?” by Jeff Lehr, The Joplin Globe, Joplin, Missouri, May 20, 2008.

A Newton County deputy shot and killed what experts believe to have been a domesticated black panther Monday outside of Neosho as it tried to batter its way into a woman’s home.

Sheriff’s deputy Cpl. Donn Hall, who was not available for comment Tuesday, responded to a 9-1-1 call from a resident at 9555 Orchid Drive, southwest of Neosho, who told dispatchers a panther was trying to get in her back door.

“Most of the time when you get a call like that you’re like ‘Ok, whatever’” said Capt. Richard Leavens, patrol supervisor with the sheriff’s department.

But when Hall arrived at the residence just after 6 a.m., he was met by the reported panther, which began running toward him. According to Leavens, Hall grabbed his service 12-gauge shotgun and pumped two shells into the attacking animal. Initially deterred, the panther retreated down the driveway, but then turned back and came at Hall again. He had time to squeeze off his last shotgun round and then drew his Glock .45 service pistol and emptied the clip into the cat, which dropped it.

“You’re shooting at something about the size of a pie-plate (the panther’s head) and then the adrenaline dumps on you,” Leavens noted. “He didn’t do too bad.”

The resident, who was not identified, later told officers that she had been outside when the panther ran at her. She screamed and took off for her house. The cat would have overtaken her if her dogs hadn’t jumped in to fight the animal off. It bought her the time she needed to reach her door and call the police. To her horror, the panther — who had brushed the dogs aside — then tried to break its way through the door to get at her.
Hall arrived shortly thereafter. The dogs weren’t injured in the fight.

The panther, meanwhile, was later weighed in at 60 pounds and measured roughly three feet. Leavens said agents from the Department of Conservation were called in to examine the corpse and said the cat, a male, wasn’t a fully matured adult. Interestingly, it had been de-clawed, indicating someone had owned it as a pet.

“Or at least they were keepers, I don’t know who would want to have a ‘pet’ like that,” Leavens said.

While exotic animals are legal to keep in Missouri, it requires a permit, which is kept on file at the county sheriff’s department. Leavens said the only such permit in Newton County is for — oddly enough — a Bengal Tiger. He said the department had not been notified of anyone in the area reporting a missing panther.

However, considering the cat’s range can be considerable, sometimes more than 100 miles from its home, Leavens said it might not have originated from very close-by.

Meanwhile, Hall was given the carcass of the animal and is having it stuffed at a Joplin taxidermist, Leavens said.

“Well, he will to have something to show his grandkids as proof,” he joked.

Source: “Black Panther Killed in Neosho,” by Wes Franklin, Neosho Daily News, May 20, 2008.

What species is it? Declawing would indicate a pet. A pet black jaguar would be a rarity. A former pet black leopard, Indian versus African, would be my guess. Still, I’d like to see a photo of this animal and DNA tests done.

I attempted to talk to the Newton County Sheriff, to determine if any further information is available on what species this “black panther” is. I was able to talk to two dispatchers who did not know, and then only was connected to an answering machine at the sheriffs’s office.

Look back here for any updates, from me or from Cryptomundians below.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. 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. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

21 Responses to “Black Panther Killed: What Species Is It?”

  1. shumway10973 responds:

    What? No pictures? How are we here at Cryptomundo suppose to solve the animal mysteries without photos? If it was anything else, like a melanistic cougar, the animal would have to be starving, really mad or sick to be charging them like that. If it was something exotic like they are thinking, probably someone’s “pet” who was looking for “affection”. Any one of those possibilities makes this a rather large cat.

  2. GiJin responds:

    I live in southeast Kansas, near Newton County. I am really interested in this story.

  3. Richard888 responds:

    As much as I like incidents involving mystery cats, I doubt there is cryptozoological value to this story if “its claws had been surgically removed.” That and its “pawing on the door” behavior in all likelihood point to an escaped pet. Another magnificent animal that suffers and dies because of human foolishness.

  4. sschaper responds:

    It occurs to me from reading this, that if there is a population of melanistic cougars in the States, that it might be from interbreeding with escaped domestic black jaguars or leopards.

  5. MattBille responds:

    It is possible. It’s been determined experimentally that nearly all the large cats, even the puma, which is in its own genus, will hybridize, at least under captive conditions. I don’t think we have records of any definite puma-jaguar crosses in the wild, and of course we would not expect to have a record of a puma-leopard cross given the normal geographical separation.

  6. red_pill_junkie responds:

    Let’s have a photo!

  7. trswartz responds:

    This makes me sad. If this was an escaped pet it probably was just looking for a friendly face and a bit of breakfast. Pawing at the screen door is pretty good evidence as far as I am concerned that this was an animal used to being around people. Of course no one is to blame for shooting this animal…I dare say if a large, black cat was charging at me, I would have shot it as well.

  8. kittenz responds:

    I doubt it was “charging” at anyone. A three foot long leopard (or jaguar) – I presume they mean three feet besides the tail – would have to be pretty young. It was probably just trying to run back to a human “parent” after the owner dumped it. But instead of calling any kind of Animal Control, and maybe getting a hunter to track and trap the CUB, the big bad deputy decided he was Charles Bronson or something and decided to blast away at it. He must not be a very good shot, if he couldn’t kill a leopard cub with a 12 guage shotgun at close range.

    People make me sick. I hope it haunts him.

  9. btgoss responds:

    Let’s not be too hard on ole’ Barney Fife okay?

    This was something that might as well have been some sort of Crypto-Freak-Mutant monster as far as this guy was concerned. I agree it was wrong, but I hate to say most people, unless you are very familiar with big cats, would have reacted exactly the same way. It would have to be a total freak out moment.

    I mean you get a call that some LOL (Little Old Lady) says there is a Cougar at her door. You know he was expecting to roll up and find some fat old Maine Coon cat and blammo… it’s Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom…

  10. UltraRob responds:

    Just makes me sad too. I don’t blame them, but this animal was clearly a pet. A tragedy all around.

  11. cryptidsrus responds:

    I agree with BTGoss.
    Massive tragedy but I agree the deputy acted from instinct.
    Still sad anyway.

    I also agree we do need a photo.

  12. gkingdano responds:

    The one to blamed is the “owner” of this pet. If they were too scared of the law to report the escape , then that removes their image of being a “bad-a–” of have a “Black Panther”as a pet. The govt. should have a required Permit law to bred, transport, have, sell, and any actions dealing with any wild species. I AM NOT SAYING PEOPLE should not be allowed to own one; they SHOULD be required to prove that they can feed , care for (vet bills), and especially contain they bad-boy animals. Some areas of the country have NO laws of any kinds to control these animals. YOUR NEIGHBOR may have one behind that fence and it may be LEGAL without reporting to anyone. Of course any laws made will just have more of these animals turned lose on the unknowing public by the MORONS.

  13. kittenz responds:

    There was a better way to handle this. The cat was not endangering any lives at the time that the “Ole Barney” first saw it. The more correct thing to do would have been to contact a local animal control facility, zoo, or even veterinarian – or even the person in the county who holds a permit for a Bengal tiger – for advice and help. Why couldn’t he have called the state conservation officer BEFORE he blazed away at it with both a shotgun and a .45? The cat couldn’t have been too dangerous, since it merely “brushed away” the dogs that attacked it. From the article, it sounds like it was just trying to get back inside after its owner either abandoned it or let it escape confinement.

    I think the guy was just hopped up on adrenaline and testosterone and wanted to feel like a hotshot.

  14. d00fus responds:

    I am a long time reader, first time commentor, but just a thought…

    My dad once told me he shot a “tiger” that had been troubling a town in the North-West of Western Australia back in the seventies. Turned out to be a damn big tabby cat, he said it was over a metre long.

    I also read that a guy in Victoria I think it was shot a “black panther” that also turned out to be a really big feral cat.

    In nature it seems that the biggest and strongest survive, especially with predators, so it is possible that a lot of these sightings of big cats could be nothing more than overgrown moggies.

    In this case I don’t know and it is hard to tell without photo’s, but in the cops defence if I had a 60 pound cat charging at me (and didn’t know it had been de-clawed) I probably would have done the same.

  15. NightFlight responds:

    I agree with you 100%, but being an ex law enforcement officer, I believe the first thing that would cross my mind if I pulled up into a rural home setting and sighted a clearly extremely wild animal clawing to get in the the door, would be rabies, and being paid by the taxpayers to “serve and protect” I believe the same outcome would have ensued, especially if the animal turned its attention to me and charged. Rural counties like the one I was employed by didn’t have the money to afford animal control (however, it does now, thank goodness) and the deputies had to not only enforce laws but be animal control, also. The worse thing I ever had to do was dispatch suspected rabid dogs because I love dogs and I always thought of “Old Yellar” when that happened. Yeah, I did cry sometimes.

  16. Hawkeye responds:

    I think the comments about the deputy being “Barny Fife” are not called for. He got a call about a panther trying to get into a house and when he arrived the animal ran at him. They are trained to do exactly what he did. I’ve had the unfortunate job of having to dispatch animals and even from close range I’ve seen animals get up and come back at people after being shot numerous times.

  17. Spinach Village responds:

    The Barney comment may be harsh in these circumstances… But the Chicago Cougar thing was totally uncalled for and that is still fresh in some posters minds just like mine… In my opinion they had a whole squadron of Barney Phifes dispatched to the scene in Chicago…

    In this case if the officer is telling the truth, then unfortunately in my opinion his actions seem warranted… like somebody said earlier “A tragedy all around”.


    Really would like to see pictures.. I wonder why they didn’t release any with the story

  18. kittenz responds:

    I didn’t start the Barney Fife thing; I was respnding to another commenter who mentioned Barney.

    I realize that in some cases – for instances the SF Zoo incident where a tiger that had already attacked people was loose in an unprotected crowd of people – in those cases, police often have no real choice but to shoot.

    In this case however, the officer showed poor judgement. Five minutes of careful observation would have showed him that the cub scratching at the lady’s door was declawed. The animal had not attacked anyone and had not even injured the dogs that attacked it. “Running toward” someone does not equal “attacking”. The officer should have shown more restraint.

    I have a great deal of respect for police officers of all kinds and they have a tough, dangerous job. That does not excuse them from acting with good judgement and restraint. Blazing away at a leopard cub with a shotgun and a .45, in a suburban backyard, before fully assessing the situation, was out of line.

  19. Loren Coleman responds:

    While I appreciate the emotional component that some have mined from within this story, my hope was to alert you to this news, in the context of cryptids, cryptozoology, cryptid felids, melanistic cats, escapees, and the basic details of the human reaction to such encounters – as noted in the media. There, no doubt, are many sides of this story that would illuminate us all if we could hear from everyone involved.

    However, we are beholding to these media accounts and their sometimes sensationalistic slants.

    I respect the fact that none of us would know how we might react when placed in a situation with a large animal that might display unknown behaviors.

    Law enforcement officers, homeowners, farmers, and ranchers thrust into unpredictable events have my highest regard, and I would call upon folks commenting here to stay on track. Unless you are walking in the shoes of the other person, I caution against great statements of insight on matters that did not happen to you – and for which we have extremely limited information.

    There is no need for psychological projections to be made of what some might do or not do when placed in circumstances that they assess to be a dangerous encounter.

    Frankly, I was just hoping someone might know what species this was and be able to have access to photos.

    There is much we can learn from this case in terms of cryptozoology and zoology, first and foremost.

  20. btgoss responds:

    I used the “Barney Fife” reference to help illustrate the point that this was a rural officer, who I am certain expected to find nothing more then a big house cat, and was instead faced with an actual, honest to goodness, big cat.
    That would have been something that was totally outside his reality.
    Of course his adrenaline would have gone through the rough at that point. He then just let his traning and natural instinct take over, and some poor pet is killed. It is tragic.
    What I think we can learn from this as far as crypto science is concerned is his reaction.
    Seeing a true cryptid would be the same type of reality breaking experience. I think that is important to consider.
    Could you imagine a “regular” Joe walking around a tree and coming face to face with a thylacine? I know I would freak out, and I might actually recognize what I was looking at.

  21. GiJin responds:

    What isn’t realized id that 11 days ago there was a tornado that tore up that part of the country and killed 11 people there 22 in total. The Deputy was prolly on duty for several hours straight trying to maintain law and order. I have video of the big cat and to me it dose appear to be a pet, it looks to be trying to get inside a house not out of hunger per say, more out of fear. Some people say that the pet escaped during the tornado, I tend to agree with that. I personally think the Deputy handeled the situation correctly. Some people tend to think an animal life is more important than human life sometimes.

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