Big Black Cats in Louisiana

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on June 14th, 2007

Are they cougars, jaguars or nothing special?

Morehouse Parish residents — especially those in the northern part of the parish — periodically report seeing big cats, or of hearing their blood-curdling screams in the dark of night.

Whether or not panthers, cougars or some other large cat actually live in Morehouse Parish has been a matter of contention for years. There are true believers and skeptics. State wildlife officials don’t even like to discuss the subject, towing the official line that no evidence exists to support the presence of big cats in the area, but growing increasingly uneasy when pressed on the matter.

The closest thing to an official answer to whether or not big cats actually roam the parish is “possibly.”

“It’s certainly possible,” said Jim Boggs, a biologist and assistant field supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Lafayette field office.

Boggs helps to oversee species listed as endangered or threatened for the USFWS in Louisiana. As such, he’s quick to point out that if there are big cats in the parish, they’re most likely not Florida panthers — an endangered subspecies of cougar — but rather Texas cougars.

“I could imagine Texas cougars in that area,” Boggs said. “You’ve got cougars in southeast Texas that could possibly travel that far. It wouldn’t be a stretch for a couple to get out of range.”

Boggs said cougars’ extremely large range is what makes it entirely possible some could have moved into the area. He also said growing human population and development in their natural range could push cougars to seek more isolated, sparsely populated areas with an abundant food supply.

“If they’re getting driven out of their range, it’s possible they could extend that range,” Boggs said.

Texas cougars are not considered a threatened species, and thus do not fall under the aegis of the USFWS. Boggs said the chances Florida panthers could make it to the area are extremely small. For one thing, the panthers are only known to breed in the Florida Everglades. For another, too many natural barriers exist for them to get here, though this area was once part of their natural range.

“For a Florida panther, the Mississippi River poses quite a challenge,” Boggs said. “To me, the probability would be small.”

Even if, by some miracle, a Florida panther were to make it to Morehouse Parish, the casual observer wouldn’t be able to distinguish it from a Texas cougar. The difference, Boggs said, is purely genetic. Contrary to popular belief, Florida panthers are not black. Furthermore, there is no such species as a “black panther.” There are black big cats, but they are not a separate species. Some big cats have a genetic “defect” known as melanism, an unusually high concentration of black pigmentation in the skin. It’s the same genetic trait that gives us black fox squirrels.

Interestingly, cougars and Florida panthers are not known by biologists to have melanism in their populations. That makes the creature Bonita water clerk Tammi Gardner has periodically seen prowling around her home particularly curious.

Gardner described the cat as “an old momma panther.” She said the people who lived in her home before her also reported seeing the cat. At one time, Gardner said, the cat had cubs with it, obviously meaning that it wasn’t alone.

Since cougars are not know to exhibit melanism, there are two possibilities in nature.

First, it could be a jaguarundi, a Central American cat known to roam in south Texas and suspected of periodically ranging into the southeastern U.S. The jaguarundi is slightly smaller than a cougar and isn’t black, but does go through a dark gray phase.

Second — and most fantastically — it could be a black jaguar. Jaguars are also thought to range from their Central American home into south Texas, so the trip to Louisiana wouldn’t be that far. The extreme southeastern U.S. was also once part of the jaguar’s historical range, and they are known to prefer swamps and river bottomlands above all other types of habitat.

“The possibilities are so vast,” Boggs said. “Without a photograph or something it’d be very difficult for me to tell.”

Boggs said the most likely explanation, though, is that Gardner’s mystery cat was once held in captivity and either escaped or was let loose. The presence of the cubs doesn’t mean another big cat had to sire them either. The father could have just as easily been a bobcat, as all cats — like all dogs — can interbreed and produce viable offspring.

“I don’t want to say it can’t be (a jaguar or a jaguarundi), but the probability’s very small that it would be one of those two things,” Boggs said.

Wild big cats may one day roam the parish for certain, but residents will be given their chance to have input on the matter before it happens. The Ouachita River valley is listed as a moderate priority site for reintroduction of the Florida panther in a USFWS recovery action plan for the species. For now, Boggs said, it’s just a plan on a piece of paper.

“If the federal government was to do that, there’d be public meetings,” Boggs said. “If you could get the public sentiment for it, the USFWS would certainly accommodate it.”Jason Stuart
Bastrop Daily Enterprise

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.

7 Responses to “Big Black Cats in Louisiana”

  1. Alton Higgins responds:

    I’m interested in reading the Florida panther USFWS recovery action plan, but my brief Google search didn’t turn up anything mentioning the Ouachita River valley (unless I overlooked it).

    Does anyone know of a link?

  2. Daryl Colyer responds:


    I found this, the latest revision (that I could tell) of the Florida Panther Recovery Plan.:

    Interestingly enough, the report does mention that certain areas in Louisiana and Arkansas are considered to be good locations to reintroduce the Florida Panther:

    “Habitat assessment studies have been conducted to identify potential sites for reintroduction of the panther in the Southeast (Thatcher et al. 2003, Thatcher et al. in press). The purpose of these studies was to identify prospective sites for panther reintroduction within the historic range based on quantitative landscape assessments. Nine potential reintroduction sites of sufficient size to support a panther population have been found including: Ozark National Forest region, Ouachita National Forest region, southwest Arkansas, and Felsenthal NWR region in Arkansas; Kisatchie National Forest region in Louisiana; Homochitto National Forest region in Mississippi; southwest Alabama; Apalachicola National Forest region in Florida; and Okefenokee NWR region in Georgia (Thatcher et al. in press). Of the nine areas identified, the Okefenokee NWR, Ozark National Forest, and Felsenthal NWR regions ranked as the best prospective reintroduction sites based on the numerical combination of effective habitat area and expert model scores (Thatcher et al. in press).”

    My father has told me for many years of a large black cat that he saw in the East Texas Big Thicket, in the 1960s, that apparently made a lasting impression on him. It was in Polk County, not too far from Livingston. My father said he saw the large black cat slowly cross the logging trail in front of him, followed by two kittens who apparently were the size of regular house cats. Pop remembered that the large cat’s tail “was just a-swishin’.”

  3. Bob K. responds:

    I would love to believe that the hunters rifle didnt get all of them in years gone by, and a few reclusive jaguars stubbornly hung on and have been living and breeding in the bayous. Having said that[and correct me if I’m wrong], melanistic jaguars are a rarity in the general jaguar population, and since most, if not all the reports seem to point to large -black- cats-and black “panthers” have been sighted in areas far from Louisiana, perhaps a large native black cat so far unknown to science prowls the deep woods and swamps of the central US, awaiting discovery. THAT would be a huge crypofind, and I think more than just a romantic notion. Too many of these critters have been sighted over a large geographic range over the years, which makes this theory at least fairly plausible, IMHO.

  4. Craig Mitchell responds:

    I saw one in Caddo Parish this past January. I walked out from my campsite onto a trail probably 3 seconds after he walked by. Only caught him as he was walking away from me. No time to go and grab a camera. His tail was swishing just like Daryl’s father described.

    I can’t go on record as saying it was a black panther, however, I can say that it was the biggest black cat I have seen outside of a zoo!

  5. TrueTexan65 responds:

    Big Cats in East Texas. – My family has a good size piece of property up in North East Texas by Nacogdoches. In the 16 years that we have owned the property I have seen a lot of things that looked out of place to someone that is not in the bush all the time. I have seen Badgers, River Otters, and very large Clams that came out of a small stream you could block with your right foot. East Texas has a lot of different kinds of traces of land uses un-like other parts of this vast country. Our property has a good mix of different size trees and about 1/3 of it is open fields. Last year I was walking around checking out some animal tracks after a good long rainy day. I was shocked with the size of the cat print I found that day. I’m a big guy and the print was about 3/4 the size of my hand.

    No one lives on our property. I thought I would start asking some of the local folks about big cats in the area because mine and my brother’s kids like to roam free at the property on their dirt toys. I was thinking that the hogs and snakes were the major problem but found out that there are a lot of big cats that pass through the area in spring and fall. I have been told by a couple local feed stores owners that the cats come from Mexico and travel through to Tennessee and Kentucky. These cats migrate just like birds. We had someone shoot one of our animals that was located within the game fence portion of our property. When the Game Warden came to make a report I asked him about the cats and got the same answers. I personally have never seen even a small cat on our property. One guy that does logging in our area told me he saw a very big black cat about 5 years ago. He said that cat was so big it could have killed a guy really easy. He thought it was a panther. The print that I found the claws were sticking out because the mud was so slippery. The claws were about 1 1/2 inches long. A word of advice is that if you even go into the semi-wild of North America which you think is tame you should be prepared for the un-expected.

  6. sushidog responds:

    Having grown up in the St. Tammany parish area of Louisiana, I had 2 black panther sightings long ago. The first was in the fall of 1973 when I was riding my 1972 Honda XL 250 in the hills near Enon Louisiana, just south of the Bogue Chitto swamp. Two noisy dirt bikes came around a turn on HWY 437, then little more than a dirt logging road. They passed me heading north while I was going south at some time between 3:00 and 5:00 in the afternoon. The cat was on a ledge 8-10 ft. high on the east side of the road. He lept into the road to cross in front of me, not hearing my quiet motorcycle for the noise of the passing 2 stroke bikes. He landed in the road not 30 ft. in front of me. At first he appeared to be leaping directly on me, but I soon realized that he was as startled of me as I was of him. He was very long, all stretched out, appearing to stretch across almost the entire road, possibly 7-8ft long from the tip of it’s tail to the stretched out front paws, disappearing in a second into the woods.

    My second black panther sighting was in either 1977 or 78. I was bow hunting just south of Abita Springs, La. walking on the railroad track where the St. Tammany trace is now located. As I rounded a bend, heading south maybe an hour after daybreak I saw a large black cat walking the tracks in the same direction I was heading, about 1/4 mile ahead of me. It evidently heard or smelled me, because it turned its head to look at me and then slowly walked off the tracks to the east into the woods. At that time I judged the length of the head and body (not counting the long tail) to be only slightly shorter than the distance between the train tracks.

  7. Denis Dwyer responds:

    In 2000 I was living on 60 remote acres in southern Washington Parish Louisiana 6 miles north of Folsom near highway 25. In the middle of a very bright sunny day I watched from a window in my home as a very large black cat about 8 feet long and with a head the size of a soccer ball trotted across one of my fields. I watched it for about 30 seconds until it dissapeared into the brush. I believe it was a black Jaguar. After mentioning it to some neighbors I found out that at least 2 other people in the area also saw it. I never saw it again.
    I am not a nut case, have perfect vision, and am not prone to exaggeration.
    Denis Dwyer

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