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Perry County: Mystery Cats and More

Posted by: Loren Coleman on April 10th, 2009

Reporter Travis Vaughn shares the following with the readers of Cryptomundo.

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The Perry County Herald interviews Loren Coleman:

Authority weighs in on local cat sightings
April 9, 2009

If you’ve ever watched very many shows on unexplained animal sightings, chances are good you’re already acquainted with Loren Coleman. He has been investigating such things since 1960 and writing about them since 1969. Cryptozoology is the name given to this study of legendary or undiscovered animals, often called cryptids.

Coleman majored in anthropology and minored in zoology at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. He then received a graduate degree in psychiatric social work from Simmons College in Boston. He also took doctoral coursework in social anthropology at Brandeis University and in sociology at the University of New Hampshire. He has written nearly twenty books, including Mysterious America and Mothman and Other Curious Encounters, and hundreds of articles on cryptozoology. He has worked on shows such as Unsolved Mysteries, Ancient Mysteries, and most recently the History Channel’s MonsterQuest. He also served as a publicity spokesperson for the Richard Gere movie The Mothman Prophecies.

His cryptozoology research has led him to investigate mysterious animals in every state in the United States as well as in other countries. He has interviewed thousands of witnesses of all sorts of creatures, including Bigfoot, North American apes, strange flying creatures, lake monsters, and mystery cats.

It was natural, then, when I started thinking about the topic of mysterious animal sightings in Alabama to think of Loren Coleman. I found his contact information and on a whim sent him an email telling him that I was with the Herald and was working on a story about strange cat sightings. I got an almost immediate reply in which he asked me to set up a time to call him. Later, when he realized he wasn’t going to be able to keep our appointment, he called me to make sure we had the opportunity to talk. To have a national expert seek out a small town newspaperman has to be a rare event, to say the least.

I first asked him what people could be seeing in these supposed large cat sightings. Coleman said that big cat sightings are common in his home state of Maine and throughout the United States, including the South. “It is taken for granted by people down there that they (cougars) exist,” he said. “They could definitely be seeing eastern mountain lions.” On the other hand, the large black cat phenomenon is a bit more complicated. According to Coleman, approximately 40% of large, long-tail cat sightings across the country are so-called black panthers. He thinks that many of these cases, if not misplaced jaguarondi or jaguars, are either exotic pets that have escaped or possibly Ice Age survivors, such as the American lion (Panthera leo atrox), that have been presumed to be extinct. Coleman also said that wildlife biologists and officials are often under pressure to maintain the status quo and not acknowledge the existence of large cats and other cryptids. If these officials allow that such things are out there, they will have to regulate them as protected game animals and will have to deal with the conflicting concerns of various groups of citizens.

We also discussed the aspects of what makes a strange animal report credible. Coleman pointed to people, such as hunters, who know the wildlife in an area as the most obvious credible sources. Coleman is always concerned about people’s psychological backgrounds in these cases. “If I go and investigate a report, I investigate the psychology of the individual first before I go look at a track or anything else,” said Coleman. He also said that multiple reports of similar phenomena often generate two interesting events. One possibility is that behavior contagion or mass hysteria takes over. Coleman mentioned the humorous example of how people in various areas in the 1950s and 1960s might have been occasionally influenced by the latest monster movie playing at the drive-in. Another possibility, however, is that media reports actually encourage reluctant witnesses of strange events. When the “ridicule curtain,” as Coleman calls it, comes down, people come forward and share their stories.

Since Bigfoot is the best known cryptid in North America, I had to ask Coleman about Bigfoot or large ape sightings in Alabama. “Bigfoot probably does not exist in the American South, but apes likely do,” said Coleman. “These animals are very mobile, and they can avoid human beings because of their intelligence.” As an example, Coleman pointed to the sightings near Clanton, Alabama, in the 1960s of what has come to be known as the “Clanton Booger.” According to Coleman, who personally investigated these sightings, many of the people reported the sound of something crashing through the tops of trees, like a troop of chimps. He also said that a footprint cast was made at the time that appeared to be more ape-like than man-like. This cast, according to both Coleman and press reports, was only destroyed in the last decade.

We also discussed large bird sightings that are reported across the United States, including the Mothman phenomenon. Coleman said that most of these sightings can be grouped either into large owl-like sightings (including the so-called “Mothman,” a name given to the sightings by a newspaper copy editor) or large condor-type birds, such as thunderbird sightings.

Although cryptozoology has its detractors, Coleman said that science has, in many ways, changed its attitude towards cryptid research in recent years. Many biologists and zoologists grew up reading his and others’ books about fantastic animals. “Now,” said Coleman, “professors in these departments are more open. We have people on the inside.” Coleman himself has had a variety of jobs in academic settings since 1980, including teaching, research, and documentary filmmaking.

He has also written extensively on certain psychological issues, including the idea of behavior clusters. His work on suicide and mass murder clusters in particular makes him a sought-after expert in this non-cryptid field. In fact, a major Canadian newspaper had interviewed him on the day before our phone interview. The reporter asked him for his take on the various mass murders that have taken place in the United States this year, including the incident in south Alabama. Coleman attributes these behavior clusters to the “copycat effect,” which is also the title of his 2004 book on the subject. These horrible incidents, said Coleman, are committed by “vulnerable people who are easily brainwashed” by media sources, especially visual media. He also sees a disturbing historical trend in these types of persons. Someone with these tendencies twenty-five years ago was likely to commit suicide, while one today might just as likely commit mass homicide.

Loren Coleman is obviously a man with varied interests, but the common theme throughout seems to be an unending quest to explain how the world truly works, without preconceived notions. I greatly enjoyed our lengthy conversation, and he graciously asked the Herald to send him a link to this story when it was published so he could post it to cryptomundo.com, a cryptozoology website he helps manage. Hopefully, this story will be found there soon, or you can see it on our blog: HERE.

Since last week’s story, I have received several good, credible reports about sightings of large cats. These stories have come from all parts of Perry County and the Black Belt of Alabama. These reports are appreciated, and I encourage others to come forward. I’ll be sharing some of these stories in coming weeks. The effort here is not to alarm our readers unnecessarily but rather to inform and entertain you. Please share your stories, cat-related or not, with me at the paper office.

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Your support of the work and research of Loren Coleman is gravely needed. Please, today…

Thank you.

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.


5 Responses to “Perry County: Mystery Cats and More”

  1. cliff responds:

    Cool, something close to home for a change, thanks Loren

    I’m grew up and now reside in one of the most densely populated parts of Alabama, Birmingham, but Clanton is not very far away. I have been there quite a few times and have heard about the BF reports there and have been interested for quite some time. I really wish that cast print was still around to see.

    There have been cat sightings/reports in my area though for as long as I can remember. I can remember my grandfather, dad, uncles and other relatives telling the stories of the “black panthers”. I remember hearing about those stories but can’t really recall any specifics. But there was one event that took place at my grandparents home that I will never forget, and it was thought, by all those who witnessed the carnage, that the predator that was responsible was a cougar, even though they aren’t supposedly native to the area. When I was maybe 12 or 13 years old I stayed at my grandparents house during the summers. The lived in a small community on the outskirts of Birmingham. The area they lived in was heavily wooded with a good sized creek maybe 100 yards from the house. But right behind the house my grandparents had a barn, and attached to the barn were several cages filled with rabbits and a large area that was fenced (chickenwire) that contained maybe a dozen or so chickens. During that summer I took care of the rabbits and chickens when I wasn’t fishing at the creek. One Saturday morning that summer my parents got a call from my grandfather very early, and we loaded up in the car and drove the 3 or 4 miles to my grandparents house. When we got there my grandfather led us all to the bac of the house near the barn. When we reached the barn what we saw was sickening and very hard to stomach. The rabbit cages had been ripped to shreds and all the rabbits killed. There were several baby rabbits that had just been born within the last couple weeks and the babies, as well as the adult rabbits, all lay strewn about the ground near the demolished cages dead. They weren’t only dead but they were mangled, like they were only half eaten. The chickens all suffered the same fate. I took care of the animals at the time, so I knew how many animals we supposed to have been present. And the strange thing was, they were pretty much all accounted for, but all were dead and basically ripped to shreds. Entrails and blood were scattered everywhere, it was like a massacre. It’s hard to even imagine what we all saw that day, it was almost beyond belief.

    The rabbit cages were made from wood and chickenwire, and so was the chicken enclosure, and chickenwire obviously isn’t a very strong material and couldn’t really even discourage a determined predator. But the part that still bothers me, is that none of the animals were eaten. Looking back on the event now, which happened around 20 years ago, I can distinctly recall that the fact that none of the animals appeared to have been eaten was very strange to everyone. The few animals (rabbits) that weren’t found mangled near the cages were later found alive. We had found just a few of the baby rabbits under the barn still alive, but all the others just seemed to have been ripped apart just for fun, sport, or just for the hell of it. The chickenwire was cut, it was like it was ripped with claws.

    There are bobcats in the area, I have seen many in the area myself around the creek when fishing. I’ve even quickly packed my gear and ran back to my grandparents house a few times after hearing the roar of a bobcat from the woods on the opposite side of the creek I was fishing on. But all the bobcats that I saw were fairly small, and I kinda question the ability of one of those small bobcats to cause the destruction to the cages that had occurred. I’m not ruling that out, they may be much stronger that I would tend to think, but I do have a hard time believing a bobcat, or any other large cat, would kill all those rabbits and chickens without consuming any of them. Like I said, they didn’t appear to be eaten, just ripped to shreds, and killed needlessly. It was obvious that some kind of animal did the killing, but my question is why? My grandfather, dad, all the men of the family claim that it was one of the “mystery cougars”, and that the destruction was too severe, too powerful, to have been caused by a bobcat. I just don’t understand why any cat would have massacred all those animals, if not for food……

  2. freedomrider responds:

    Perry County Arkansas also is home to the large black cats as are several counties in Arkansas. Even the loud protest of Game and Fish Commision cannot silence the many witnesses. I had one run through my yard one morning, VERY LONG TAIL!

  3. cryptidsrus responds:

    Should this be really accepted as a “cryptid” sighting, given that existence of these critters is known to science—AND locals quietly but persistently know of its existence???
    I would classify this as “known species kept quiet and unacknowleged by locals and local authorities.” Go figure.

  4. Loren Coleman responds:

    Cryptidsrus, of course, these are “cryptids” because a “theory” about what they are does not equal proof of the species being seen.

    Existence of various species of animals, or fossil animals known, and theorized to be what is being seen by eyewitnesses of cryptids doesn’t make the uncaught, unproven objects of observation any less a cryptid.

  5. Missylk30 responds:

    I live in southeast Alabama…both my parents talked about the cats screaming..my mom when she was 14 and she and her freind where left home alone and my dad talked about trying to keep a terrified mule from bolting while a cougar screamed outside the barn…..this would have been during the 1950’s..when we basically had no deer…i sleep like the dead but my neighbors have heard hair-raising screams coming out of the creek bottom behind my house….and coyotes and wild pigs avoid our particular patch of land….so no i don’t believe they were ever entirely wiped out….as for the black ones…i know to many perfectly sane people who have seen them in broad daylight…to ever think they don’t exist….



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