Devilish Melanistic Panthers

Posted by: Loren Coleman on April 16th, 2008

Relatively old-fashioned wildlife and outdoors reporters are few and far between today, and especially in big city papers. But San Francisco is lucky enough to have one: Tom Stienstra.

Stienstra has a history of being open-minded enough to pen and tackle thoughtful pieces on Sasquatch, which seems reasonable concerning his location. He also appears to be very aware of the jet-black felids that are often seen in Marin County and around the East Bay area.

One difference I do have with this reporter, however, is his unfortunate and incorrect use of the word “mythic.”

“Myths” are wrongly used with cryptids. Myths are a traditional story about heroes or supernatural beings, often attempting to explain the origins of natural phenomena or aspects of human behavior, or a false belief, or fictitious thing. But undiscovered animals, which might turn out to be real or misidentified or new species, while perhaps “legendary” or “folkloric,” are hardly “mythic.”

Legends and folklore can be based on reality; myths are not. People actually seeing a creature, beast, or animal hardly constitutes a mythical situation. The black panthers of northern California are not centaurs and unicorns. There exists a major difference between “mythic beasts” and “legendary cryptids,” but reporters continue to use the terms and phrases incorrectly.

In Mysterious America, I detailed the “black panthers” of Mt. Diablo (named after the Devil, of course) in the East Bay and at other California locations. The comprehensive listing of sightings was Cryptomundo-published too, here.

Now, from California, Stienstra shares news of a recent close encounter of the feline kind:

The Bay Area’s ultimate wildlife mystery, the mythic black panther, may have been solved by a local wildlife expert who said he and a friend sighted an anomalous black mountain lion at Point Reyes National Seashore.

“This lion was not darkish, not a brownish-tawny like some I’ve seen since, but jet black,” said John Balawejder, a longtime reader and avid hiker and wildlife watcher whose daughter, Alani, has written an academic paper about the sighting.

Hikers have reported seeing what they called black panthers at several Bay Area parks. But wildlife scientists, academics and photographers have never verified the body or hide of a black panther in California, and of the thousands of mountain lions shot with depredation permits in the past 30 years, Fish and Game has never seen a lion that was jet black.

Balawejder has seen more than 10 mountain lions (that beats my six in 25,000 trail miles), so he knows what he’s looking at. Like many landmark wildlife encounters, his episode came by complete surprise. On a spring day, he was hiking with a pal, Burke Richardson, out at Pierce Ranch, located at the north end of Point Reyes, on an adventure to see elk, wildflowers and views of the ocean and Tomales Bay.

“We came up a short rise through a grassy swale, and then, looking up, saw a large, jet-black mountain lion calmly sitting, eyes half asleep looking out at us from about 30 yards away,” Balawejder said. “My friend and I stood there, stunned. It then started to slink away from us in a large semi-circle, attempting to hide in the grass.”

With the chance that the animal was stalking them, Balawejder retreated. “We were sadly without a camera, which was not like us at all, but, oh well.”

In the Bay Area, animals resembling “black panthers” or black mountain lions have been reported by hikers at Las Trampas Regional Wilderness, Sunol Regional Wilderness, Chabot Regional Park, Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline, and the Marin Headlands. In central California, a black panther was reported near San Luis Obispo, and in Southern California, one was also reported near Lake Arrowhead. But sightings by wildlife experts are virtually zero.

The most repeated sightings of a “black panther” have been at Las Trampas near San Ramon in the East Bay hills. This is a 3,600-acre parkland near Bollinger Canyon that borders a 27,000-acre wildland managed by the East Bay Municipal Utility District.

Source: “The mysterious black panther makes a rare appearance, scout reports,” by Tom Stienstra, San Francisco Chronicle Outdoors Writer, Sunday, April 13, 2008.

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.

3 Responses to “Devilish Melanistic Panthers”

  1. red_pill_junkie responds:

    But a cryptid COULD be the origin of a myth.

  2. HOOSIERHUNTER responds:

    The use of the word “mythic” to me would indicate an underlying disbelief in the creature. “Legendary” or “folkloric” indicates a mind open to the possibility of such a creature; scientifically unknown but occasonally reported. I agree with you Loren on the words, but wonder what Stienstra really thinks.

  3. Alligator responds:

    My problem with the big black cat stories is that these creatures take on almost a “supernatural” quality rather than just being a melanistic cougar, etc. I’m a skeptic on this one and here’s why.

    I’m almost 55, and I’ve heard stories about big black cats from friends and relatives all over Missouri, northern Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma all my life. These things were frequently seen in areas where there weren’t even any bobcats until 15 or 20 years ago. Now the bobcats are thick as fleas, we are documenting a few ‘normal’ cougars in these areas but we still have no National Geographic quality photo or a hair sample or a carcass even though the sightings have been abundant and continue to be so.

    So either these black cats are inter-dimensional (I don’t want to go there) or they they sure have bucked the law of averages. Or does a melanistic cougar just get spotted more than a normal one? Sightings alone don’t mean much to me to me anymore, even if the witness is beyond reproach. They may genuinely believe this is what they saw and be sincere, but I can’t know that what they report is really what they saw.

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