Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper Column for May 7, 2014

Sometime back, my neighbor, a man with decades of hunting experience, saw what he would have called a mountain lion, except it was completely black. And he is not the only one down our county road to have seen a large black cat.

There are recurring sightings of black panthers in the Ozarks, though scientists generally discount these reports. The speculation is that the sightings are made in poor light by inexperienced observers seeing fleeting images of bobcats or black dogs or even river otters.

A few years ago, Jon Mourglia was coming down Planer Hill into downtown Eureka Springs when he saw a black panther up on the right. He stopped and watched the animal for a couple of minutes and then ran into a business to alert others. A lady came out, but only in time to see the animal’s tail as it jumped over a log and retreated. Jon said it was broad daylight and the animal watched him for as long as he watched it. The black panther was sleek and its tail was nearly as long as the rest of its body.

In South America, mountain lions are known to occasionally be black (called melanism), but this has never been proven to have occurred in North America. Another explanation is that a caged black leopard or black jaguar has been released into the wild.

What is interesting about this is that some early explorers and pioneers reported that there were black panthers in the area. In fact, when the wildlife of the Ozarks was listed by various observers, catamounts and panthers were often listed separately. Mountain lions can be called either catamounts or panthers by different people, but for them to be listed separately, the references must be to different animals.

Others have speculated about the historic range of jaguars and a smaller wild cat called the jaguarundi. Both are thought to have ranged north into Texas and Louisiana at one time, and possibly into Oklahoma and Arkansas.

For the record, the only Jaguar I’ve seen in town was driven by Larry Evans.