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Jaguarundis: Is the Mystery of the Texas Black Panther Sightings Finally Solved?

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One of the most famous tales of cryptids across the great state of Texas is that of the black panther. Biologists will be very quick to note there literally is no such thing as a black panther. Many cryptozoologists attempt to explain the phenomenon predominantly in two ways:

  1. That these sightings of giant, black predatory cats across the state are really melanistic jaguars, which have migrated steadily north from their primary habitats of central Mexico.
  2.  These cats are an undiscovered or unconfirmed new species, and biologists will not recognize them until somebody delivers a body, either alive or dead.
Black jaguar.

Photo: Flickr/Steve Wilson

These sightings have been reported in central Texas and the Hill Country in particular, but in the areas of Bastrop and Caldwell county may offer another explanation for the sightings. According to locals in Delhi, a small outpost in northwest Caldwell Country, those who have beheld these creatures might have seen something else entirely.

Enter the jaguarundi. Jaguarundis are bobcat-sized wild cats, typically reaching a weight of 20 pounds, and they can also have very dark fur. The distinguishing characteristic of the Jaguarundis above all is their long tails. The tail length combined with their short, powerful legs means wild cats can appear much larger than they really are, especially at a distance. In essence, a person could easily mistake a jaguarundi for a panther in the right circumstances. There are also small native populations of these cats in south Texas.

jaguarundi in repose.
Photo: Flickr/Fabio Manfredini

As the locals of Delhi, Texas, reported in the mid-1980s, several jaguarundis were relocated to Bastrop and Caldwell counties from a large game ranch in south Texas. Apparently, the cats were disruptive to the large white-tail deer and quail that the game ranch contained. Since the jaguarundis were a protected species, they were trapped and brought north and released. Over the years many sightings have been reported of “black panthers” across the two counties. According to a few Delhi residents, these people aren’t seeing “panthers,” but rather, jaguarundis.

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