Louisiana Panther Hysteria: Fever Pitch

Posted by: Loren Coleman on February 25th, 2011

Folsom resident Randy Davis was sitting at home in his equipment room late Saturday night when on his surveillance monitor he noticed a large cat walk across his asphalt driveway. On closer inspection, Davis thinks the image is that of a black panther. Davis courtesy image.

Marilyn Williams took this picture near a church in Phoenix. (Ctsy. Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s Office)

But, in reality, do these images appear to have been captured of folks’ pet black cats? Or giant black panthers?

Since February 1st, the media in Louisiana has been noting the reports of melanistic large felids on the prowl.

“Louisiana wildlife officials searched the woods of Plaquemines Parish on Monday with a tranquilizer gun and a digital device that emits a panther growl, in search of a giant black cat believed on the loose since Hurricane Katrina. The panther is roughly 7 feet long and has been spotted by multiple residents in Plaquemines Parish, most recently in the Phoenix area, according to sheriff’s deputies,” reported local ABC station WAPT.

The Phoenix area mentioned is on the west bank of the Mississippi River, 25 miles or so south of New Orleans, according to Cryptomundian Bart Portal who has been passing on news of these reports.

“We came down on a call to investigate and started walking through a little patch of woods and I actually saw it at about 12 feet. It actually scared me pretty good. It startled me,” Sgt. Robert Cullum, of the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s Office told the television station.

Louisiana station WWL placed the reports, almost, in the context of terrorism. On February 1st, they noted, “The Plaquemines Parish Office of Homeland Security is informing residents of the East Bank of Plaquemines Parish that a large black panther is on the loose.”

On February 22, reporter Benjamin Alexander-Bloch wrote an article, “Panther sightings have residents freaked, experts skeptical,” in The Times-Picayune. He said, in part,

In the New Orleans area, panther hysteria is at fever pitch.

With residents reporting near daily sightings, you’d think we were under attack.

Truth is, the myth of the black panther in Louisiana – and throughout the United States – has a long phantom existence, according to physiologists and biologists.

Maria Davidson, the large carnivore program manager for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, calmly explained that the only black panthers in existence are black jaguars found in South America and black leopards that live in Asia and Africa.

The North American black panther generally falls under the term “cryptid,” a creature whose existence has been suggested but is not recognized by the scientific community and has been deemed highly unlikely. Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster fall under that category.

They also have been called “phantom cats,” “alien big cats” (ABCs), and in certain circles, the sightings have been dubbed “panther paranoia.”

And while some people, including local law enforcement officials, discuss the possibility of a black cougar in our midst, Davidson assuredly said black cougars do not exist at all. They come only in tawny and fawn colors, ranging from light gray-brown to a brownish orange.

In fact, she said, Louisiana does not have a breeding population of cougars – in any color – and that the last cougar found in the state was in 2009 and that animal was genetically linked to a population in New Mexico.

Last weekend, two panther sightings were reported, one in St. Tammany Parish and one in Plaquemines Parish. A few days earlier, a man in St. Bernard Parish said he and his wife saw one sitting a block from their garage, staring at them calmly, before darting into nearby woods.

Several other reports of sightings have streamed into Davidson’s office and to the news media.

The recent fervor began several weeks ago, when a woman purportedly spotted a panther in a tree behind her house. Plaquemines Parish sheriff’s officials went out with Davidson to investigate.

Davidson said she later confirmed that the footprints belonged to a dog.

Recently a photo began circulating on Facebook, and soon made its rounds on local television news channels, that a Plaquemines woman said she took on Sunday. Davidson said the photo certainly is of a house cat, likely measuring about 3 feet from nose to back of tail.

Other supposed black panther photos have come to her attention in the past few weeks, and she said all were much too blurry to decipher.

Plaquemines sheriff’s Sgt. Robert Cullum went to the original black panther sighting in Phoenix on Plaquemines’ east bank and has searched each day with hunter dogs, trained to track deer. He said he saw a 6-foot-long black cat.

A week or so after the original sighting, residents reported that the cat had moved south to the riverside community of Davant, and now Cullum predicted it is in the Bohemian area, farther south along the parish’s east bank.

A Plaquemines sheriff helicopter still regularly circles the area.

Also chiming in, Lake Borne Levee District Police and levee contractors in the Violet area have reported panthers in the area.

And last Thursday, a couple in Violet called the St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office and reported a panther near their home. St. Bernard sheriff’s officials, especially after news broke about it on Monday, searched the woods there for the past two days to no avail.

Meanwhile, a Folsom couple recently reported to television media that their home surveillance cameras caught a panther on film Saturday. They have not reported it to government officials, and Davidson said on Tuesday that she yet heard of it.

Donna Davis said she now won’t let her eight grandchildren out of the house at night.

“There is no refuting from this video what he is. It is very obvious, very clear,” she said. “From head to tip to tail it’s almost 6 feet, 7 feet and he has a girth to him like you can’t believe. It’s a massive, massive cat.”

She and her husband Randy Davis have horses on their 20-acre property but say none has been injured. She said they have now added better lighting and are using live chickens to bait the panther in hopes of getting a better shot on film.

…[for more, read here]

And after the state Wildlife and Fisheries Department debunks stories about roaming black panthers, explaining that they do not exist in the area, Davidson said people often try to find another explanation, and resort to stories about how wild, exotic pets must have sprung loose from their owners.

According to urban myth, in St. Bernard’s Poydras area before Hurricane Katrina, a man owned two panthers — one brown and one black. When the deluge came, he let the beasts loose and for the past five years they’ve been out in the marshes.

St. Bernard officials say no records were kept from before the storm and most of the pre-storm staff in the local animal control department have since left town, making research into the story difficult.

But, any owners of the world’s six big cats — tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards, cheetahs and cougars — must receive a permit from Wildlife and Fisheries, and Davidson said none has been issued.

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.

8 Responses to “Louisiana Panther Hysteria: Fever Pitch”

  1. Shelley responds:

    I have to say in that top picture, it doesn’t look like anything much larger than my 16-lb housecat, in black, sitting in front of a VW type microbus. The dimensions of the vehicle should make it easy to figure out how big this cat actually is.

    I went to a talk last night here in So. IL, in which the local expert said that no one has ever actually seen a big black cat because they do not exist here in the US. Since he is the person that all reports of big cats–anything bobcat size or larger–comes to in this area, we will probably never get to the bottom of these sightings. There was an audience member who had seen a large black cat who was not happy to be told that he was mistaken.

    There was also the usual about no population of cougar/puma/mountain lion being resident here, and that all seen/found are just wandering through from further west. He did say that there is a thriving population of bobcat, which would expand even further if there was not an even more thriving population of coyote and, unfortunately, people driving too fast on the roads. Two-thirds of the dead bobcats found had been hit by a vehicle.

    With all of this manpower and attention on this particular sighting in Louisiana, we’d hope they would get some definite proof or even an actual big cat.

  2. wolfatrest responds:

    They both look like a picture of a house cat to me. A very big house cat, but still just a house cat.

  3. DWA responds:

    I’m thinking house cat from the pictures.

    “Alerts” like this will always generate junk. If there are records that cannot be explained away, and appear authentic from the standpoint of witness reliability and what is described, the fakes aren’t even part of the discussion. So this doesn’t mean that the real McCoy isn’t out there.

    It just means these aren’t it.

  4. Spinach Village responds:

    Interesting story. It’s hard for me to imagine that Louisiana does not have an established breeding population of cougars.

    I am assuming that the man’s black and brown “panthers” were leopards and not jaguars; that is, if the story is true.

    Can leopards breed with cougars?, My educated guess would be yes, based on the leopard/lion hybrids, etc. Leopards and cougars are very similar in size and also habit, e.g. they both are known to stash their kills in trees.

    I would say that the picture of the cat with the greenery in it looks to be a big (healthy) house cat, but I can’t tell. However, the black and white CCTV image seems to be showing a much bigger animal. Compare the animal’s silhouette size to the size of the tire on the truck and you should see what I mean.

  5. CajunRG responds:

    It would not surprise me if the large black cat sightings in lower St. Bernard Parish and Plaquemines Parish were leopards or jaguars that were kept as pets and had escaped or were released during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This is a large marshy area that is sparsely populated that provides plenty of places for the big cats to hide and escape detection. There is also a plentiful supply of animals for them to hunt such as nutria, feral hogs, rabbits, and deer that would ensure their survival.

  6. kittalia responds:

    Well, here is a site about leopard/puma hybrids.

    Also, They look like house cats to me.

    The top one looks 2-3 feet long, but that is still house cat size.

  7. zmississippi responds:

    Why do people think they have all the answers? Like they know everything. The smartest person in the world will tell you they know nothing this world has to offer. Your brain cannot know everything but some act like they do. Point is I have seen a very large panther/leopard or whatever it was personally in the wild here in Hancock county Mississippi. It was about the size of a german shepard and was longer than tall it seems, and doesn’t fit the body type of any animal I’ve seen.It was shiny black like a color i’ve never seen anywhere on anything. I seen it CLEARLY as i was driving on 603/43 cross 4 lanes , a long median, and down the next embankment. Its head was smaller compared to its body and had an extremely long monkey like tail. I’ve never seen a housecat the size of a german shepard whether black brown or white. I have a friend that has seen one twice, So stop the charades and before you say they don’t exist (uneducately) come down and look for yourself. Just don’t ask me to go with you cause i’m not that stupid to go in those woods. its a safe bet theres no human being able to take one of this whatever it is on. Unbelievers – Jokes on you

  8. volmar responds:

    The first photo shows a black cat alright. A black domestic cat, that is, pretty much like the one I have. The second photo looks like a dog to me, but could be a domestic cat too… Bad resolution and a lot of imagination are the problems with these photos.

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