Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 14, 2014

Locals report black cat sightings; wildlife officials dispute existence

Earlier this week, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported that the public had reported hundreds of sightings of Florida panthers to the agency.

The most recent numbers available showed that the public submitted nearly 800 sightings to the FWC’s website.

The release and another wildcat sighting prompted discussion in the local community over the last week.

Locally, Red Level resident David Moye told the Star-News he’s seen a black panther in the Loango community on Rosalyn Ridge Road.

“I have seen him several times,” Moye said. “One time, from about 30 feet away. It is full grown and from the tip of the tail to the tip of the nose it is about 6 feet long and is as tall as a large German shepherd dog.”

Moye also reported seeing two smaller black panthers down Hwy. 29 South, “Just past the Fox Pin Hunting area.”

And Moye isn’t the only Star-News reader to report such sightings.

Last week, the Star-News published a photo of a large cat that Jerry Newton’s game camera captured, sparking a Facebook discussion on the Star-News’ Facebook page.

“I have seen a black cougar myself in the Babbie area around 1980,” said Pamela Austin. “I thought it was a dog that was walking along side the highway until we got close, and had slowed down enough just in case it tried to cross in front of us. When we got close enough, I was able to see just exactly what it was — a very, very large black cat and it was not a house cat as it was as big as a mountain lion.”

Tiffany Youngblood reported she has seen a “big black cat” on Hwy. 55 near McKenzie.

Katie Lord reported seeing a panther in the Weedville community just inside Crenshaw County.

“And we just (saw) a very large kitty last Friday night on 84/21 in Red Level,” she said.

Still, wildlife biologists like Mark Bailey say the reports are “mistaken identities.”

“Nobody seems to be able to get a photo,” he said. “And there are game cameras everywhere these days. Also, (there are) no road kills.”

Bailey said that all wildlife biologists know there is no such creature native to the area.

“You have to go to Mexico or Africa to find black-phase jaguars or leopards,” he said. “Even if we still have the native mountain lion or panther in Alabama, there has never been a documented black one.”

Bailey said the problem is that people think black panthers exist, so when they get a poor look at a large dark animal they jump to the wrong conclusion.

“The myth is a strong one and shows no sign of dying out,” he said. “The burden of proof is on those who claim the sightings, and proof has not been produced.”

Alabama Wildlife Biologist Frank Allen­, who published an article in Outdoor Alabama, titled, “The Truth About Black Panthers and Bears in Alabama,” shared the same sentiments as Bailey.

“Even though popular lore suggests they are black, there has never been a documented case of a black mountain lion in all of North America,” he said. “There are only two species of large cats in the world that are known to be black. The leopard, which is found in Africa and Asia, in some cases, may be black. Another large cat that is rarely black in color is the jaguar, which lives from South American to Mexico, and small section of southwestern United States. Other names for the mountain lion are puma, catamount, cougar and panther.”

Allen’s report said that there have not been any confirmed sightings by trail cameras, road kills, traditional photography or hunter-harvested specimens since 1948.

Additionally, Mike McNeil, a lieutenant with the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Law Enforcement Section, agreed.

“I don’t know of any substantiated sightings of wild cougars or panthers in Alabama during my career, which dates back to 1990,” he said. “I checked with a biologist at the Enterprise District IV office, and he is not aware of any recent sightings since the 1970s.”