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Origins of the Terms: Phantom Panthers and Alien Big Cats

Posted by: Loren Coleman on January 7th, 2012

My brother Jerry D. Coleman asked me casually if I knew “who coined Alien Big Cats and when.”

Jerry then mentioned that he “thought it was you, but I may be thinking of Phantom Panther.”

Indeed, Jerry was on the right track. The history on these phrases are not as elusive as the cryptids they denote.

I coined “Phantom Panther” to discuss all the reports from North America of seemingly out-of-place deer-colored mystery cats and mysterious black panthers being seen but not caught. The phrase soon was generalized for elsewhere. I used the term in the 1970s in my articles in Fortean Times and Fate. I’ll have to dig out when and where I first employed it, someday, unless a reader knows. Of course, today, it is a standard in books like Mysterious America.

The waves of reports of cryptid felids were like “phantoms,” in terms of the animals infrequently being captured or killed.  Some people misunderstood the “phantom” part, for I did not mean that they were from the world investigated by future ghosthunters.

The notion of these cats being so elusive was noted earlier by New Brunswick biologist and mountain lion researcher Bruce S. Wright who titled a book I had first read in 1959, The Ghost of North America: The Story of the Eastern Panther (NY: Vantage Press, 1959). I wanted to honor that book and Wright, with “Phantom Panther,” as well as inventing an easy and alliterate term to use in my articles.

Photo: Biologist Bruce S. Wright with the mounted specimen of what is believed to be the last eastern cougar, which was trapped in Maine in 1938. Courtesy U.S . Fish and Wildlife Service.

Now as to Alien Big Cats, of course, I thought of the Fortean authors, the Bords, Janet and Colin first, as the inventors of that one.

I figured that Janet Bord had come up with the term first, and inquired if I was correct to think she had coined the phrase. She wrote back immediately today:

I can’t believe that I did invent ‘Alien Big Cat’!  However, you may well be right!   I have found some examples of this usage in Alien Animals, which was first published in 1980.  Of course I also referred to other creatures as ‘alien whatever…’, e.g. ‘alien visitors’, so it would be natural to also say ‘alien big cats’ – and I did not insert initial capital letters, which suggests it was not a familiar usage at that time.

Janet says someone else maybe did coin it first, so she’s interested to know if anyone out there has an older history for the phrase.

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.


2 Responses to “Origins of the Terms: Phantom Panthers and Alien Big Cats”

  1. Paul Sims via Facebook responds:

    I found that book when I was 10 in the library and read it four times in the two weeks I had it. one of my favs

  2. karlshuker responds:

    Re the origin of the phrase ‘alien big cat’ and the associated acronym ‘ABC’: Being fortunate enough to own a complete run of Fortean Times, I’ve gone through every issue from the very beginning, and the first time that these phrases appear in it is in issue #44 (Summer 1985), p. 28.

    In an article by editor Bob Rickard entitled ‘Once More With Felines’, reviewing recent mystery cat reports in Britain, the opening section of the first line reads as follows: “Our last round-up of alien big-cats (ABC) – we have decided to adopt this acronym – was in FT 42…”.

    Although previous issues of FT contain numerous accounts of feline cryptids, they had only ever been referred to variously as ‘mystery cats’, ‘phantom felines’, ‘phantom panthers’, ‘MAs’ (Mystery Animals), or by location-specific terms such as ‘Exmoor Beast’, ‘Surrey Puma’, etc.

    However, back in 1980, Janet and Colin Bord had referred to ‘alien big cats’ several times in the mystery cat chapter of their book Alien Animals, though they never abbreviated the term to ‘ABC’.

    Hope this helps.

    All the best, Karl



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