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).

Dr Karl Shuker's Official Website - http://www.karlshuker.com/index.htm

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Friday 15 April 2016


'Story Told By My Mother', painted in 1955 by Carroll Cloar (© Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Tennessee, USA – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only)

In various previous ShukerNature articles, I've documented several fascinating examples of apparent cryptids depicted by famous artists. Now, I am adding yet another such example to this select company.

I am very grateful to American correspondent David McAvoy for bringing to my attention a remarkable painting on display at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Tennessee, USA. Entitled 'Story Told By My Mother', and opening this present ShukerNature article, it was produced in 1955 by highly-acclaimed Arkansas-born artist Carroll Cloar (1913-1993), and depicts a snow scene in which a woman is stepping briskly away from a very large black panther-like cat standing at the edge of some trees.

David informed me that it was inspired by tales that Cloar had heard from his mother concerning so-called black panthers that had once roamed Arkansas. Moreover, David himself hails from Arkansas, and he mentioned that he has heard such stories for as long as he can remember. Indeed, mysterious, unidentified big cats of black panther-like appearance (i.e. resembling melanistic leopards, which are uniformly black in background coat colouration) have been reported all over North America for centuries.

A black panther (melanistic leopard) (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Leopards of course are not native to the New World, so if such beasts are indeed roaming the wilds here, they can only be escapee or released individuals from captivity. However, their eyewitnesses often claim that these cats are not black leopards anyway (nor black jaguars either, although normal spotted jaguars have been confirmed to exist at least in certain southern states such as Arizona and California on a fairly regular basis in earlier times), but are instead black pumas. (Other names for pumas, incidentally, include cougars, mountain lions, catamounts, painters, and - very confusingly - panthers.) Yet no such cat form has ever been scientifically confirmed from North America, only two such specimens have been procured in tropical Latin America, and no captive individuals are currently known to exist anywhere (I have previously documented one possible example exhibited at London Zoo during the 1800s). Moreover, all three of these latter specimens were not uniformly black anyway, but were only black dorsally; ventrally, they were much paler.

In short, even if they do occur, black pumas are exceptionally rare as far as physical evidence for their reality is concerned, and those few confirmed specimens do not match the sightings of large all-black felids in North America. Bearing in mind that countless normal-coloured pumas (i.e. either tawny or grey) have been shot there, however, and also bearing in mind that in view of the numerous reports of black panther-like cats on file from this continent, whatever this cat form may be it does not appear to be especially rare, why are no North America specimens ever forthcoming if it is indeed a melanistic version (morph) of the puma? This apparent paradox remains a major riddle for New World cryptozoology to solve, but at least we do now have an additional and most interesting, unexpected piece of evidence supporting the existence of black panther-like cats in North America, regardless of their formal taxonomic identity.

For a comprehensive examination of the black puma controversy, please click here, and see also my books Mystery Cats of the World and Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery.


  1. Melanistic-phase mountain lions (Felis concolor), not black panthers, were indeed seen in Arkansas from early times, at least as late as the 1960's. The 'official position' on F.concolor that you will read most often is that "no melanistic North American mountain lion has ever been documented". The word "undocumented" means none have ever been shot, carried to a lab, necropsied, skinned, taxidermied, tagged, and stored in a mammalogy collection. I wouldn't expect them to, since they are uncommon. One might remember that prior to the late 1990's, the official position on jaguars in America was "none documented, not present" - despite periodic reports of them over many decades - until photographs were taken of one in the Peloncillo Mts of southern AZ/NM. Now the position is, "documented, present". Photos of melanistic cougars would similarly alter our official stance. We did not have a camera with us in the early 1960's when we encountered a melanistic cougar while walking on a rural dirt road in southern Arkansas, but i have no doubt that it was F.concolor in a melanistic phase. I worked as a wildlife biologist for 23 years and do not get very worked up over official positions of documentation. :)

  2. The fact remains that if a creature is not officially documented (as in, unrepresented by specimens examined scientifically, to paraphrase your own definition above), then from a purely scientific standpoint it does not exist. This is at the core of cryptozoology - cryptids are creatures currently undocumented by science, and therefore include North American black pumas. There are people who claim just as vehemently as you have re black pumas that they have seen other cryptids currently not documented by science either. My personal opinion is that there are indeed big black felids being seen in North America, but whether any are melanistic pumas cannot be confirmed until specimens are obtained, examined, and confirmed to be melanistic pumas. It is quite likely that more than one identity is involved here anyway - some such black cats being seen may indeed be melanistic pumas, certain others may be escapee/released melanistic leopards, with some melanistic jaguars, extra-large black domestic cats, jaguarundis, melanistic lynxes/bobcats, normal pumas seen in unusual lighting conditions and/or with wet fur, even some non-felids such as the fisher Martes pennanti and misidentified canids. In short, the 'American black panther' may be a composite, involving several different identities all being erroneously lumped together.

  3. Here is a slightly edited comment of mine that I posted on Facebook a couple of days ago in relation to melanistic pumas, panthers, etc, which adds to my previous one posted above.

    Some points needing to be made here: 'Panther' is a very misused term, and has been for centuries. Up until around the mid-1800s, many zoologists seriously believed that there were two species of spotted leopard - the typical one, and the panther, and attempted to distinguish the two via various measurements etc, before eventually realising that the leopard was simply a very variable single species. Since then, 'panther' has been most commonly used as a short version of 'black panther', which in turn is most commonly used as the vernacular name for melanistic (all-black) specimens of the leopard, these specimens not constituting a separate species, but merely leopards that exhibit two copies of the recessive non-agouti mutant gene allele that cause their pelage's atypical, very dark background colouration. Less commonly, 'black panther' is also used to signify black (melanistic) jaguars, which again have atypical, very dark background pelage colouration (though, interestingly, in jaguars this is caused by a different mutant gene allele, one that is actually dominant, not recessive). Incidentally, 'Panther' is also used in North America as an alternative name for the puma (aka cougar aka mountain lion aka catamount aka painter etc), especially the rare Florida subspecies, the Florida panther. As for black pumas: I have no doubt that large black cats are indeed being sighted in North America - there are so many reports from so many locations over so many years that it makes their existence difficult to dispute. What concerns me, however, is the automatic assumption that these mystery black cats - often loosely termed 'black panthers' or 'mystery panthers' - are black (i.e. melanistic) pumas. The reason why I am concerned about this is twofold. Firstly, in view of how many normal pumas in North America have been shot and stuffed or their skins preserved, or at least photographed with those who shot them, and equally in view of how many sightings in North America of alleged black pumas have been reported, if they truly are black pumas then why (to my knowledge) is there not a single stuffed, skin-preserved, or clearly-photographed North American black puma in existence? Why has no such specimen ever been procured anywhere in this vast continent and been submitted for formal scientific examination? And secondly: three black pumas ARE known (but not from North America) - two are from Latin America (Costa Rica and Brazil respectively) plus a third of unknown provenance that was exhibited in London Zoo, England, during the 1800s (the Costa Rican specimen is also known from a photograph and the London Zoo one from a colour engraving). Yet all three of these were only black dorsally, ventrally they were paler, a kind of slate-grey. In contrast, all of the mystery black 'panthers' sighted in North America and claimed to be pumas are uniformly black all over - in other words, they don't match the appearance of the three known black pumas on record. This is why I am concerned as to whether the large black mystery cats being seen in North America are truly black pumas. What else they could be remains unclear - black jaguars, escapee/released black leopards, black bobcats/lynxes, jaguarundis, normal-coloured pumas that look black because of unusual lighting conditions or wet fur, even extra-large black domestic cats? Any or all of these identities may be contributing to the mystery black panther scenario in North America. But genuine black (melanistic) pumas? The case for this particular identity remains unconfirmed and - in my opinion, for the reasons given above - seemingly unlikely.

  4. Finally: I just want to emphasise that in contrast to Wylie Cox's above statement that the reason why there are no black puma specimens on record is that such cats are uncommon, there are in fact many reports of black panther-like cats on file from much of North America, both in recent times and going back many decades. So they would appear to be far from uncommon, and yet not one specimen has ever apparently been procured and submitted for scientific examination. Why not? This to me is the single biggest mystery regarding such cats. See my previous longer comment for further details.