Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. He is the author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), Dragons: A Natural History (1995), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Hidden Powers of Animals (2001), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is widely considered to be his cryptozoological magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016) - plus, very excitingly, his first two long-awaited, much-requested ShukerNature blog books (2019, 2020).

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Sunday 18 October 2015


What are North America's mystery black panthers – escapee/released melanistic leopards, or native all-black pumas? (© William Rebsamen)

Time to debunk another crypto-controversy, though in this case it's not a deliberate hoax, merely a mixture of confusion and absence of the required facts.

As I have documented elsewhere on ShukerNature (click here), physical evidence for the reality of melanistic (all-black) pumas Puma concolor (aka cougars, mountain lions, painters, etc) in North America is conspicuous only by its absence. Certainly, large all-black cats often nicknamed panthers or black panthers (names more correctly applied to melanistic specimens of the leopard Panthera pardus) have been frequently reported from many parts of the United States and Canada too, but none has ever been made available for scientific examination resulting in a confirmed identification (even outside North America, I only know of two verified dorsally black, ventrally paler pumas – one shot in Costa Rica, the other in Brazil; I know of no verified all-black pumas from anywhere). So what do we have in the following video clip?

Several times lately, correspondents have drawn my attention to a certain brief clip of film, which keeps appearing, disappearing, and reappearing on YouTube. It's back again at present, so view while you can here. Judging from the comments present beneath it on YouTube, viewers seem to think shows a genuine film of a genuine all-black (melanistic) puma attacking and killing a dog. The reality is very different.

For reasons that I shall give below, this is clearly not a genuine all-black puma, it is simply a normal one that has been dyed black all over in order to resemble North America's elusive mystery black panthers of cryptozoological acclaim. Nor is this a real, non-fiction video either – it is merely a clip from the 1977 'Wonderful World of Disney' television movie entitled The Ghost of Cypress Swamp, starring Jeff East and Vic Morrow.

A computer-generated image of what a melanistic puma may look like (© Dr Karl Shuker)

As a massive life-long Disney fan, I used to watch this series avidly as a youngster, as well as its equally excellent predecessor, 'Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color', and as you'd expect, I can still remember seeing the black puma clips from this particular movie, though I have to confess that prior to re-watching it on YouTube in relation to the black puma segments, the rest of it was somewhat of a haze now, almost 40 years later. Curiously, although shown in England, it has apparently never been released in the USA, its unfamiliarity therefore possibly helping to explain why clips from it featuring the cosmetically-created black puma have been mistakenly assumed by some online viewers to depict real scenes featuring a real black puma.

The whole movie can be viewed on YouTube here, and actually contains two such clips. In the first clip (the one that attracted the online comments by viewers assuming that it was a genuine film), beginning at 2.47 minutes into the film, the cat kills a youth's dog (the youth played by Jeff East); then in the second clip  at 1.24.55, it attacks the youth's new dog, this clip continuing (with a brief break during which the youth runs home for his gun) for the next couple of minutes before the dog is rescued alive and well by the youth who then shoots the cat dead after it attacks his father. There are also several briefer clips of the cat stalking a deer, prowling through the swamp, etc. As for movie's general storyline, here is the plot synopsis accompanying it on YouTube: "Set in swamplands in Georgia his dog is attacked by a panther called Weakfoot. Later he [Jeff East's character] is captured by a wild man living in the swamps and believed to be dead".

So, why do I not think that this all-black puma is genuine? In a few clips in the film, the black dye has seemingly rubbed off or has been licked off by the puma from parts of its face (or had not fully stained to begin with?), especially around the eyes, and on the mouth and nose (most noticeably at 15:41), revealing its normal paler fur. As already noted above, the only confirmed black pumas were dark dorsally but paler ventrally, not uniformly black (i.e. they were not melanistic pumas). And if this cat had truly been a black puma, it would have been so valuable and rare that it would have been one of the biggest, most famous stars in Hollywood in its own right, as famous as Lassie and Rin Tin Tin.

So, as film cops always say at the denouement of a crime case: move on, people - nothing to see here.

UPDATE - 19 October 2015

Continuing with American black mystery panthers in movies: the infamous John Wayne/Susan Hayward movie The Conqueror (1956) also featured what looked like a puma with all-black pelage - so I've now watched the relevant segment from the film to check this out. Moreover, I have since learnt from Facebook friend and fellow crypto-enthusiast Ian C. Thomas that the cat was indeed a puma, but once again dyed black. Here is the relevant information (including a photo), as excerpted from the website Poseidon's Underworld (click here to access it in full). Thanks, Ian!

She [Susan Hayward] was supposed to have a scene involving a black panther (a tiny snippet of which still remains) in which she kicked it in the rear, but there were many issues. The panther was so ill-tempered [but wouldn't you be if someone was trying to kick you in the rear?!] that it went to maul her, then it was replaced with a puma painted black, but the beast kept licking all of the paint off itself!

And here is what an article on this film that appeared here on the London Telegraph newspaper's website had to say about that particular scene's attempt to utilise the original black panther:

At some point a distinctly non-indigenous black panther was shipped in to ‘liven up’ the background of one scene. Except that it then attacked Susan Hayward, attempting to take a bite out of her arm.

Several other corroborating accounts concerning the black panther and the dyed-black puma that replaced it in The Conqueror can be found online.

2ND UPDATE - 1 February 2017

Following up a very welcome lead posted by a reader in the comments below, I checked out the original source material upon which the above Disney movie was based. It proved to be a novel entitled Weakfoot, written by Linda Cline and first published in 1975. It was reprinted a year later, retitled as The Ghost of Cramer's Island. The novel takes place in the early part of the 20th Century, and is set in and around the Okefenokee Swamp, which straddles the Georgia-Florida border in the USA. In the novel, Weakfoot is an adult female black puma who is eventually shot, but her cubs survive, and they too are black.

Futura paperback reprint of Weakfoot by Linda Cline (© Linda Cline/Futura, reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only)

Further information concerning the likelihood (or otherwise) of black pumas existing can also be found in my two books on mystery cats – Mystery Cats of the World (1989) and Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012).


  1. I never knew there was a black panther in a Disney film… Cool stuff Karl.

  2. I was wondering when good 'ol Weakfoot would show up on this site! In the book by Patricia Kline, Weakfoot is a female puma. After she is killed at the end, her cubs (which are also black) survive.

    1. Interesting - I checked out the original novel (actually by Linda Cline), and it sounds an interesting read, so I'll see if I can buy a copy. Thanks for the info, much appreciated.

  3. So THAT'S what I dimly recalled seeing back in the 70s! Thanks for clearing that up.

    By the time the remake of CAT PEOPLE came out, I recognized as the "black panthers" as dyed cougars the first time stills from the film appeared in FANGORIA. Their longer legs and smaller heads gave them away. I'm guessing that trained cougars are a bit safer to work with than leopards, although the dye job may make them unhappy. The "black" tiger in BEAST MASTER looks distinctly grumpy.

    Sent you an email about a black "Wampus cat" my grandfather claims to have seen in Greensboro, NC in the early 1920s.