Saturday, 18 June 2011

Another black panther sighting

For many years there have been rumors of black panthers or black mountain lions being spotted from as far away as Point Reyes National Seashore to Dublin, California.
The majority of the sightings have been in the Las Trampas Regional Wilderness by San Ramon, California.
While mountain lion sightings in this region are common, claims for black panther sightings cause a bit of a stir considering that cats like these in any habitat are extremely rare.
Some biologists believe that black mountain lions don’t exist, and that if there are black panthers out there, they would be either leopards or jaguars. Others claim that melanistic (black) cougars have absolutely been born albeit as an extreme rarity.
In the recent past there have been deer kills found up in trees at Las Trampas, which is the behavioral habit of an old world cat such as a leopard, as opposed to the mountain lion who buries its kill with loose soil on the ground.
Most of the reported sightings by the general public have proven to be something other than what the witnesses claim. Sometimes they have been house cats spotted form far away, or a cougar seen in bad lighting. Other sightings have gone neither proven nor dis-proven, such as these sightings below:
"I was curious about EBMUD's protected watershed off Redwood Road in Castro Valley, so I obtained a permit and checked it out . . . I decided to navigate into the gully, walked maybe 30 or 40 feet to the east and suddenly found myself locked eyes with this big black cat. It was roughly 50 feet from me, through several barriers of logs and overgrowth. The first thought is that it looked like a panther, but the weird thing is that sort of animal should be in Africa, not the East Bay. It was so out of place."
- Larz Sherer, Berkeley
"We came up a short rise through a grassy swale (near Tomales Point), 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. This lion was not darkish, not a brownish-tawny like some I've seen since, but jet black. My friend (Burke Richardson) and I stood there, stunned. It then started to slink away from us in a large semi-circle, attempting to hide in the grass. We were sadly without a camera, which was not like us at all, but, oh well."
- John Balawejder, Santa Cruz 
Perhaps the most credible and compelling black panther sighting was the one at the Laborer’s Training Camp a couple of months ago. A labor trainee reported to his supervisor that he had just seen a big black mountain lion. Several employees including the training director went back over to the spot where the cat was seen and sure enough, there he was watching three deer. The big cat paid no attention to the observers as he stalked the deer up the hill.
It was hard to believe that they were looking at a live black mountain lion, so in an effort to prove what they believed they were seeing; they set up a transit that’s used like binoculars. All the men looked into the lens and confirmed what they had witnessed – a big black lion’s face filled the lens. The men said he had yellow eyes and looked like he may have been anywhere between 100-135 pounds.
The guys had the forethought to call the San Ramon Valley Police Department. When I spoke to the training director at the Laborer’s Camp, he mentioned that the officer who was dispatched to their camp had the same smile on his face that he suspected everybody had when mentioning that they had seen a black panther in San Ramon.
But when the officer looked into the viewing lens of the transit he gasped, “That is one hell of a big cat!” There were 7 witnesses to the black panther that day.
One explanation that’s been offered is that about 30 years ago, a man had raised a couple of black leopards at his home in the Las Trampas regional wilderness. People who knew this man said he had let them go when they became too big. Certainly, those original cats wouldn’t still be alive today, but could there have had offspring? Could they have bred with local mountain lions? Could it be that like the big cats in Arizona, there are actually jaguars around – and they’re black? At this point, there’s no way to know.
One thing is for sure, the legend of the black mountain lion is a legend no more. The men who last saw this big cat know he’s out there and realize they have seen something that few people believe. I say, keep your eyes peeled and always carry a camera.

Authors Note:
 I have been personally following this rumor since I heard about it some years ago. I live right next to the Las Trampas Regional Wilderness so wildlife is always on my mind. I have always had a feeling that the black cats were a strong possibility and would like nothing more than to spot one of these legendary animals myself. Until then, the eyewitness accounts of others will have to do.
Cautionary Note: Another point I would like to mention is while it's terribly exciting to imagine witnessing such a magnificent creature the goal is never to end up face-to-face with a predator. Wild animals (even the smaller ones) can be extremely dangerous and using good judgement with a healthy dose of common sense is paramount.

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