What Happens If You Kill A Mystery Cat?

Posted by: Loren Coleman on May 16th, 2010

One of the concerns I have heard from people in the field who say they have only seen or might be tempted to shoot a mystery cat is the fear the government might charge them with some crime.

Never mind that these mystery cats, whether “black panthers” or “unknown felids,” might be unknown species or out-of-place large cats, people do fret. Even though there may not be any laws on the books about the taking of such cryptid cats, people are anxious. Little does it matter that the only way to prove the identity of an unknown felid is to catch, trap, or kill the cat, people feel some distress about what might be done to them.

Is there good cause for folks to worry?

Mark A. Hall tracked down three stories of people in the South having killed “black panthers.” All three ended with the hunters destroying, by burning or burying, the bodies of the melanistic cats. They believed they would be charged with violating some “endangered species” law or some other seemingly imagined illegality. They said they didn’t want to take any chances. Of course, some debunkers of the mystery black cat reports didn’t believe them.

In recent exchanges I’ve had involving game wardens or wildlife biologists having sighted “black panthers” in New England, the stories usually finish with statements from the government employees along the lines of, “But, of course, I wasn’t going to tell anyone where I worked or I would lose my job.”

Now comes a rather complex breaking news story out of the American Southwest about what is being called the death of the “only jaguar in the USA,” and how the individuals who were involved in this unfortunate event were treated.

The jaguar was released after having a tracking collar fitted to its neck. What happened later would not result in a happy ending for it or those studying it. Credit: Arizona Game and Fish Department.

A southern Arizona biologist pleaded guilty on Friday (May 14, 2010) to a misdemeanor federal charge for his role in the 2009 trapping and subsequent death of a rare jaguar known as “Macho B.”

Emil McCain, 31, of Patagonia, entered his plea to illegally “taking” an endangered species in U.S. District Court in Tucson and was immediately sentenced to five years probation. McCain was also barred from being employed or involved in any project or job involving large wild cats, according to his plea agreement.

McCain worked with the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project, which was contracted by a joint New Mexico-Arizona jaguar conservation team to study the elusive big cats.

A Game and Fish employee who worked with McCain has been fired.

A U.S. attorney’s office spokesman said the criminal investigation was ongoing but wouldn’t comment on whether others might also be charged. Another investigation into the matter by the state wildlife department was also ongoing.

Macho B was trapped on Feb. 18, 2009, fitted with a radio collar and released. Game and Fish initially called it an “inadvertent capture” and a potential treasure trove for scientists trying to determine if the cats lived in the U.S. or just were occasional visitors from Mexico.

The jaguar was recaptured due to health problems and euthanized on March 2, 2009. It was the only known wild jaguar in the United States.

It wasn’t until several months later that questions began to arise about whether the jaguar had been intentionally the target of Game and Fish trappers who were looking for cougars and bears.

According to the plea agreement McCain signed, he placed jaguar scat or told a woman on the trapping team to place jaguar scat at three snare sites in an attempt to capture and trap the jaguar.

McCain knew a jaguar had recently been in the remote area between Arivaca and Nogales and the Game and Fish team he was working with only had authorization to trap mountain lions and bears for research, his plea stated.

“We now know that McCain acted in a personal capacity to intentionally capture a jaguar,” Arizona Game and Fish said in a statement. “McCain’s admission of guilt supports the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s longstanding assertion that agency personnel did not set out with intention to capture a jaguar.

“Until the Department has access to the federal investigation, the Department’s own internal investigation continues to be open and ongoing.”

McCain’s lawyer, Alfred Donau, said his client has already taken a job out of the country as a wildlife biologist but wouldn’t disclose where. Donau told The Associated Press Friday that while McCain was remorseful the jaguar had died, the trapping would have had much different results if the cat had lived because he was seeking scientific data for conservation purposes.

“If this jaguar hadn’t been the equivalent of 100 years old human age and he lived it would have been a huge boon to scientific research, because we would have known with a collar on him whether or not he was from Mexico or the native range was Arizona,” Donau said.

“If the cat hadn’t died, there would have been a much different point of view of what took place here. This isn’t a case where somebody went out and tried to kill an animal.”

Read the rest of “So. Ariz. man pleads guilty in jaguar’s death” by Bob Christie, here.

Flashback Photo:

A collared jaguar nicknamed Macho B is seen in this February 2009 photo provided by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. On Feb. 18, 2009, Macho B, who had been documented by tracking cameras since 1996, was inadvertently snared by an Arizona Game and Fish Department trap. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Center for Biological Diversity, on opposite sides of a lawsuit scheduled for federal trial in March 2009 over the jaguar, disagreed over what good the new information from the collar would supply. Credit: Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Should we be surprised by eyewitnesses’ caution regarding their sighting reports of large cats in the USA? Or those who have said they had “proof,” a dead body?

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.

17 Responses to “What Happens If You Kill A Mystery Cat?”

  1. coelacanth1938 responds:

    Oh lord, I just had a horrible idea: A subculture of hunters that go after cryptids because they’re not properly protected.

  2. wolfatrest responds:

    Funny how those hunters who burned or buried the bodies don’t seem quiet so paranoid now isn’t it?

  3. wolfatrest responds:

    Oh, and imagine what would happen if someone did capture a Sasquatch and it subsequently died.

  4. MountDesertIslander responds:

    Not properly protected? It’s pretty clear what is and what isn’t in season when you read the hunting regulations. There is no ambiguity written into the hunting code.

    My experience with hunters are that they are a responsible group who self police their ranks pretty well. Anyone who takes a ‘trophy’ animal wants to display that kill, tell stories, and brag to their friends about their hunting prowess. This involves a taxidermist and any number of fellow enthusiasts who have families and friends. There are just way too many people with loose tongues involved in that scenario. Word will get to the ears of the authorities. I know a taxidermist who has turned in hunters for out of season kills and questions as to hunting grounds. It’s pretty routine for my friend to ask questions of the hunter and the game commission if he has any doubts about the animal being brought to him.

    Then there is the group who hunt for food. Subsistence hunters want edible meat. Predator meat is the meal of last resort.

    If any group of ‘hunters’ could be a problem to endangered big cats it would be the farmer or rancher. When it comes to losing stock there isn’t a lot of tolerance for the endangered species act. Ranchers can be especially hard core about their bottom line.

    There’s a bit of sad irony that it proved to be a scientist who was the undoing of this particular cat. As I grow older and more disillusioned with government I tend to see the crusading ‘true believer’ as the the source of much agenda driven misbehavior.

  5. JungleHusky responds:

    Question by Mr. Coleman above” “Is there good cause for folks to worry?”

    Answer: Depends if said creature has physically attacked locals in the past.

    Science by humans can only be as good as the humans conducting the research. This case is a rare and tragic report but ignorance of the possibility that human action (setting the trap), could result in injury and or death of the animal, is ignorance fuelled by enthusiasm for gettting some physical sample(s).

    Quote from article:

    “Donau told The Associated Press Friday that while McCain was remorseful the jaguar had died, the trapping would have had much different results if the cat had lived because he was seeking scientific data for conservation purposes.”

    Obviously the death of a rare Jaguar has to be a testament that if you plan to carry out a mission for ‘scientific data’ and you want the creature to be alive, precautionary thinking has to take priority to prevent accidental death. It’s easy for us to criticize what has happened after the event has unfolded, but if other scientific hunters do not take this case as a precedent, it is very likely that if something similar does happen in the future the punishment will be far stricter. In an age of human domination over the environment and wildlife we have to pay respect to our ability to, intentionally or unintentionally, disturb, injure or displace the creatures we are observing.

  6. RandyS responds:

    The question is flawed. The shooting or capture of an “unknown” animal (i.e., a creature not recognized by science to exist), be it cryptid feline, sasquatch, or giant Thunderbird, is not analogous to shooting or capturing a member of a known animal on the Endangered Species list.

    In the first case, there are no laws (nor could there be) against harming an animal that is not even proved to exist. You may as well worry about whether shooting a unicorn will get you in trouble with the law.

    In the second case, there *are* laws on the books which make it a crime to harass or harm endangered species. Willingly doing so, even in the name of science, is a crime.

    That said, there’s nothing to protect you from the tide of negative public opinion when you do shoot that unicorn. But there can be no legal consequences. Just remember, when you’re shooting that “unknown felid,” make certain of what you’re shooting at — don’t go shooting the neighbor’s overfed house cat.

  7. tropicalwolf responds:

    Working off ONLY the facts presented in this article, I submit the following:

    The problem is that the guy subverted trapping laws from the start. Had he not placed the jaguar scat near the snares, then he could have argued that it was an “accidental trapping.” Then once trapped, the animal should have been reported and all proper documentation procedures should have been followed. Or, once the animal was “discovered” in the area, he should have made proper reports and filed for permits to attempt to trap the animal for scientific purposes. Working WITH the DNR instead of behind their backs is best practice. You will find these people to be very intelligent, knowledgeable, and cooperative if approached properly.

    IMO, comparing this to cryptids is apples/oranges. The existence of jaguars is not in dispute. Standard trapping techniques and prohibitions exist. Hypothetically, it is not like putting out a cup of goat blood and then finding a chupacbra in your trap, or putting out gorilla scat and finding you snared a sasquatch. It would seem to me it has more to do with the PLAUSIBILITY of an animal being in a particular area. For exempt, in Ohio, the DNR does not recognize mountain lions as indigenous species, therefore there are no regulations regarding the “taking” or “killing” of these animals (yes, I’ve checked). As a matter of fact, Ohio errs on the side of eradication for non-native species (the wild boar is a perfect example – no closed season, no bag limits, but you MUST still have a valid hunting license). However boar are well known as close a Kentucky. I think the DNR expects them to know better than to cross the Ohio River.

    I think it behoves anyone who considers themselves a researcher in this arena, who is actually going out into the field, to be fully aware of the game laws in their state. Cryptid or not, they are still “animals.” Know what laws apply and which ones don’t. Ignorance is not a defense. That way should you find yourself with a sasquatch-skin rug that you at least have a good legal defense. And something tells me, if you do have that authentic rug, money for a defense shouldn’t be an issue.

    (Note: Please read this post with a little humor in your heart, I don’t feel like getting bashed by the anti-kill crowd)

  8. JungleHusky responds:

    To tropicalwolf, everyone is entitled to their opinion. I agree with you that ignorance is not a solid defense (defence). You are also somewhat correct to argue that he invited the Jaguar into the trap by rubbing scat at that location, and from a judicial point of view, the next question would be to determine if his ‘invitation’ makes him accountable for the death of the animal that followed.

  9. DWA responds:

    “In the first case, there are no laws (nor could there be) against harming an animal that is not even proved to exist. You may as well worry about whether shooting a unicorn will get you in trouble with the law.”

    This is wrong.

    There could be such laws, because there ARE. All across this great land of ours, in fact.

    If you shoot a unicorn, a brontosaurus, or a sasquatch, you better hope the law doesn’t find out. Because it’s ILLEGAL.

    In fact, hunting in the United States is ILLEGAL. Period.

    OK, with exceptions.

    Which are called – wait for it – hunting regulations.

    Cutting to the chase: if you shoot anything other than what the hunting regulations say you can shoot, you have committed a crime. This goes for shooting known animals out of season; known animals for which the season is closed; and ANY ANIMAL NOT SPECIFICALLY MENTIONED IN THE REGULATIONS as OK to hunt

    Hunting regs were designed – specifically – to harness yahoos who take the right to bear arms a bit too far. If you aren’t shooting at something that you have been told – by the letter of the regs – is legal, you are shooting illegally. Period.

    Killing cryptids is illegal, folks. Get a camera if that’s the trophy you want.

  10. wolfatrest responds:

    To DWA, I tend to disagree. Things are illegal when you are breaking an established law in doing them. Hunting regulations are in place to regulate the number of animals killed, preserving the desired population. As in the example of wild hogs, in some areas the desired population is zero, therefore the limit is however many you can manage to kill. The right to bear arms sometimes has little or nothing to do with hunting. I know several people who love to target shoot but have no interest whatsoever in hunting. Maybe we should leave our opinions about whether or not people should own guns out of this discussion. Since cryptids are NOT protected by law, then it is NOT illegal to kill them. Immoral and reprehensible, I’d agree, but not illegal. That said, the only way you’ll prove to the majority of people in the existence of a creature such as a Sasquatch is with a body, living or not.

  11. DWA responds:


    Nothing you say addresses anything I did. Except I think it’s *your* sensitivity about bearing arms that’s coming to the fore here, not mine.

    Killing cryptids is breaking an established law – the law against shooting ANY animal you are not EXPLICITLY allowed to shoot. (If you are allowed to shoot as many animals as you want to bring the desired population down to zero, it is because the hunting regs EXPLICITLY allow you to. They name the species and set the limit: open all year; no limit.)

    I’m right. Period. Unless you show otherwise.

    (You won’t. 😉 )

  12. Larry responds:

    Below is what the Illinois regulations have to say. Clearly, the default position is that a wild animal can only be hunted if specific authorization exists. This would appear to make it illegal to shoot a bigfoot in Illinois. The loophole appears to be that the landowner or tenant could authorize it, unless the species is protected.

    Wild mammals and parts thereof, which shall include their green hides, are protected EXCEPT as authorized by a hunting or trapping season, and include: woodchuck, gray squirrel, fox squirrel, eastern cottontail rabbit, swamp rabbit, white-tailed deer, muskrat, beaver, raccoon, opossum, least weasel, long-tailed weasel, mink, striped skunk, red fox, gray fox, badger and coyote.

    Wild mammals and parts thereof, which shall include their green hides, are protected throughout the year and include: grey/timber wolves, river otter, bobcat, flying squirrel, red squirrel, eastern woodrat, golden mouse, rice rat and bats.

    It shall be unlawful for any person to take any other living wild animal not covered above without the permission of the landowner or tenant.

  13. tropicalwolf responds:

    If you are willing to extrapolate from “mountain lion” to “mystery cat,” this about sums it up for Ohio…

    “Chris Gilkey, Adams County Wildlife Officer, said cougars and mountain lions are not regulated by the state of Ohio and can be killed by anyone with a hunting license. He also said they can be killed without a license if they pose a threat to human life or livestock.” (circa May, 2009)

    If its “one-on-one” in the woods, who is to say whether or not the animal actually posed a threat or not. Like history, the winner (survivor) writes the “truth.”

  14. lukedog responds:

    Shoot a Cryptid feline ? hardly an offence in Australia, we could still shoot indigenous Aboriginals quite legally until the mid 1960’s

  15. RandyS responds:

    Returning to this forum a bit late, but…

    DWA, I am afraid that you are sadly misinformed. At least here in Oregon, hunting is NOT illegal, but it IS a licensed activity (like driving). And there ARE certain species for which specific tags are required in order to hunt them. Additionally, there are other species which the law says can only be hunted during certain times of the year, other species for which specific bag limits are imposed even though there is no seasonal limitation, and even some species which are protected from predation by hunters altogether (song birds, for instance, and moose and wolves — even though it has yet to be proven that those two species actually “live” in Oregon).

    For other species, NOT SPECIFIED BY THE GAME REGULATIONS, there is no season or bag limit imposed. Animals that fall within this category, but which are not named in the game regulations, include (but are not limited to) coyotes, porcupines, rabbits, and I would bet, unicorns and sasquatch.

    In fact, since there is no bag limit, why stop with just one unicorn, or one sasquatch?

  16. westonoto responds:

    It’s apparent that game laws differ from state to state. Here in Maine, it would indeed be illegal to kill any cryptid, as only animals specifically allowed to be hunted have an open season. All other birds and animals are considered non-game species and it is illegal to take one. It’s also illegal to shoot fish here, lol.

    As for the contention that if you were alone in the woods, you could get away with a “self-defense” claim. Well, I wouldn’t hang my hat on that one either. From my time in Alaska I can tell you that the out-of-state “fishermen” who just happened to “defend themselves” against Brown Bear attacks were investigated just as thoroughly as if it had been a human that they had killed (I think the penalty might even be worse to be honest), and a number of them had been found to have just used self defense as an excuse to kill a Brownie. They did jail and paid as much as $10k in fines. Some places take that stuff very seriously.

  17. DWA responds:


    If I’m sadly misinformed, why do you agree with me, hmmmm? Well, yeah, in that first paragraph you agree with me, i.e., you are right. Then you fly off the road.

    I’ll bet that if you look at the OR game regulations you’ll find out YOU better read your OR game regulations. This from – wait for it – the 2010 regs:

    “Predatory Animals are coyotes, rabbits, rodents, and feral swine which are or may be destructive to agricultural crops. Therefore these animals have no closed season, bag limit or weapons restriction.”

    See that coyote in there? Hidin’ from yuh, wudnit? They frequently use cover like that, to avoid hunters who don’t read the game regs. You can ONLY take a coyote in OR because THEY ARE MENTIONED as having no limit.

    See the porcupine in there? Better put your gun away, son, if not. They are covered under “rodents.”

    See the rabbits in there? LOTS, dude. NOTORIOUS users of cover. If you don’t read, that is, past the ‘cover’ of the game regs. 😉

    You can shoot, club, trap, drown, chase down with dogs, etc. any or as many of them as you want. THE REGS SAY SO, SPECIFICALLY.

    So, you wanna test me out there, son, you just go shoot yerself sumpin’ that ain’t mentioned in them thar regs. Then let ol’ Dr. DWA show you:

    1) yes they are; or
    2) nice sasquatch, buddy! And good luck with the law. 😉

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