Spanning from Newfoundland all the way to central Alabama, the Appalachian Mountains are some of the oldest mountains in North America. Like many other mountain ranges, the Appalachians have their fair share of mysteries and legends.
Lurking within the forests and verdant green valleys of the Appalachians is a veritable menagerie of alleged weird beasts, phantom creatures, and out of place animals running the gamut from the plausible to the absurd. Perhaps the most well-known mystery creature of the region is the Appalachian Black Panther, an animal that has been reported as far back as the days of early settlers of the area and continues to be sighted today in both the Appalachians and the Ozarks. There are even historical examples of dead specimens of these black panthers turning up from time to time. One animal was allegedly killed in the 1800s by a settler named Emily Stacey, who shot one with a musket through her own door when it savagely tried to get into her house. Additionally, in 1843, a Sir William Jardine published a compendium of big cats titled The Naturalist’s Library, Mammalia, Vol. 1, Cats in which he describes two specimens of what he called “black cougars,” that were supposedly killed in America and displayed in London during the 1700s. Jardine even assigned them with a name, Felis Nigra, the Black Puma, although it is uncertain of what exact species of cat they were and the bodies are long since gone. The odd thing is that while it is possible, cougars are not currently known to exhibit a melanistic, or black, phase as there has never been any concrete such a specimen found. The only two types of big cat known to have a black color phase and thus become “black panthers” are jaguars and leopards.
Whether they come in black or not, the existence of cougars in the Appalachians is in and of itself not completely farfetched. Although they have been considered extinct in the Appalachian Mountains for over a century, cougars were indeed once found all across the eastern United States. In fact, cougars, also called pumas or mountain lions, were once found throughout the United States and were at one time the most widely distributed large land animal in the Western Hemisphere. When settlers arrived in the Appalachian region in the 1500s, the presence of these fearsome cats caused them to be hunted down, and habitat loss and deforestation helped to put the nail in the coffin for cougars on the east coast until they were all but gone by the 19th century. However, numerous sightings of cougars in the eastern United States, including the Appalachian Mountains, continue to this day. Could the mysterious black panthers be melanistic cougars? There is also the possibility that black jaguars may have roamed to the region. Jaguars were once found in the Southwest United States and are known to be melanistic, so it is perhaps possible that some have managed to make their way to the Appalachians and are responsible for the reports of black panthers in the region. Regardless of what they are, the fact remains that people continue to insist that “black panthers” stalk the wilds of the Appalachian Mountains.
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