Webcam Photo of Black Cougar Taken In Lapeer County, Michigan

NABP - North American Black Panthers

Click Here to Watch the News Video of the Van Den Berg Family's Eight Sightings in Lapeer County of BLACK Cougars

Click Here to Watch the Selma, Alabama, Black Cougar Video

If there is anything more controversial than whether Michigan has a resident, breeding cougar population, it has to be whether Michigan has a resident, breeding BLACK cougar population. They've even picked up their own acronym - NABP - North American Black Panther.


For the first time ever in August, 2009, wild cougar cubs were born with pigment that may lead to gray and/or black cougars. In Florida, there was a litter of kittens born grey and black point markings. While we don't know yet how these animals will age and if color will change, it does show that there is a gene that allows for grey shading in wild cougars. Interestingly, Florida is the first location to completely verify black Bobcats, also. To read the full news story, click here.

One of the most recent sightings is that of a federal forester from South Carolina. On the second week in January, 2007, Terrance Fletcher, a technician with the US Forest Service, was walking the Chattooga River which divides Georgia and South Carolina. After hearing a rustling in the woods, Fletcher looked up to see a black panther crouched on the forest floor like a house cat stalking a bird. When he stood up, the cat started running so Fletcher jumped into the icy waters of the river, met up with his partner, and as he says, "We just got on out of there". Sadly, state wildlife officials in Georgia and South Carolina didn't believe Fletcher and said he'd probably seen a river otter or bobcat. Georgia DNR Kevin Lowrey defended Fletcher's observations, saying it was possible it was a black panther, but most likely a released exotic pet because there are no native black cats in the United States. (hmm? will the real NABP please stand up?) Click here to read the full story in South Carolina's "The State" news article.

For a hundred years, people in the Eastern States have reported seeing black cougars, frequently called panthers. In fact, language development indicates that tan/tawny cats are called by the name of cougar and catamount, but black cats have been differentiated by the use of the name of panther, i.e. black panthers. Charles Humprhey states that there are over 500 sightings in North Carolina and one-half of these were coal black panthers. Sightings of black cats in Kentucky were recently reported in Field and Stream blogs. Since the 1950s, Illinois reports multiple black cat sightings in and around Decatur and the Shawnee National Forest. Michigan, alone, has reported over 70 sightings of black cats from the Upper and Lower Peninsulas, with the majority coming from Oakland County. The Michigan Wildlife Conservancy (MWC) reports that 4 - 27% of all sightings refer to black cats.

18 Oakland
12 Berrien
12 Livingston,
8 Lapeer
4 Barry, Cass, Genesee, Lenawee, Osceola
3 Allegan, Bay, Chippewa, Gratiot, Houghton Jackson, Manistee, St. Joseph Wayne,
2 Benzie, Cheboygan, Emmet, Gladwin, Grand Traverse, Hillsdale, Kalamazoo, Kent, Lake, Livingston, Macomb, Marquette, Montmorency, St. Clair, Van Buren, Washtenaw
1 Alcona, Baraga Branch, Calhoun, Cheboygan, Crawford, Eaton, Isabella, Keewenaw, Leelanau, Mackinac, Manistee, Menominee, Midland, Missaukee, Montcalm, Oscoda, Otsego, Ottawa, Presque Isle, Saginaw, Shiawassee, St. Clair, Wexford

DOES HISTORY SUPPORT BLACK COUGARS IN NORTH AMERICA? Yes, Native Americans even had a special name for the "black" cougar - "devil cat". Natives expressed a great deal of fear of the black cougar and it was considered an evil version of the brown-colored cougar which they respected. One study published in 1996 by Coleman indicates that about 15% of cougar sightings in California from 1957 to 1975 were accounts of black cats; one frequently seen cat was named "The Black Mountain Lion of Devil's Hole" in a booklet distributed by the Las Trampas Regional Park. A black cat was also reported near Enosburg Falls in Vermont in 1899.

(Click here to enlarge the map)

WHAT IS THE TRADITIONAL COLOR FOR A NORTH AMERICAN COUGAR? Cougars have been studied extensively in the Western States; but, there has been little to no scientific study of Eastern cougars. The reason, some say, is that there are no Eastern cougars. Others say they are an endangered species so the animals cannot be tracked effectively in order to study them. Despite the reason, no one knows for sure whether North American cougars come in black. The Encyclopedia of The Cat, says that, "The main body color, which is solid, ranges from light brown through silvery grey to black, with the underparts including the throat off-white." It has also been speculated that the cat adapts based on the season and its environment, "...change from beige to a bluish gray in the winter - much like their prey the white-tailed deer. The species very rarely produces black ‘melanistic' individuals..." It is theorized that the western cougar would maintain a more bleached coat than the eastern cougar due to its exposure to sunlight. The black mutation may provide favorable camouflage effects in dense forest with low light, as well as possible benefits in the immune system.

ARE BLACK COUGARS REALLY BLACK BOBCATS? Possibly. Here is a photo of a melanistic black bobcat taken in late 2005 by a Florida professor. (credits to Ben Willis and
2005 Florida Black Bobcat Photo

On the heels of this 2005 photo, a melanistic black bobcat was captured in Florida in 2007 and is/was being held at the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jupiter, Florida. The twenty pound animal, reported to be the size of a Labrador Retriever, was captured after killing a pet turkey. It is black from head to tail with one white spot on the belly. Sanctuary Representative Hartman says less than a dozen have been recorded, most of them in South Florida near the Loxahatchee River and St. Lucie Canal. The first was discovered about 70 years ago. Santuary Representative Hitzig says, "For years, people here in Florida have talked about Black Florida Panthers. First of all, Florida Panthers are basically a Cougar. There has never ever been a Black Cougar or a Florida Panther ever found. No record of them, no pictures, no hides, no skins, nothing. but still we hear these stories of black cats that lurk in the wilds of Florida. Maybe we have kind of found that missing piece of the puzzle and we now know what everybody's been talking about when they say, 'I saw a Black Panther in the wild.' But really they saw a Black Bobcat." The sanctuary says they'll be working with the state to run DNA and blood tests. They want to make sure there's official documentation that the Black Bobcat exists. The sanctuary plans to return the Black Bobcat to the wild. (WPTV, Channel 5, Florida)
Captured Black Bobcat
Florida, 2007

ARE BLACK COUGARS JUST LEOPARDS? The leopard, found in Western India, can be found in an occasional "black" pattern. Genetically, it is the same as a regular leopard, but holds the recessive black gene which makes it's coat very brown. A similar cat, the jaguar, normally found in South America, is known to have a yellow or tawny coat with dark spots forming rosettes and dark rings on the tail; black panthers have been documented. How do the leopard and jaguar fit with North American cougars? Obviously, there are no leopards found in North America, but it is a different story with the jaguar.

Until the 1940s, jaguars still survived in small colonies in Texas, Louisiana bayous, New Mexico, and Arizona. The famous lion hunting Lee brothers talked about calling the jaguars into a hunting camp one night in the 1930s by blowing a "lion horn". Although jaguars are larger and more heavily built than cougars, most people cannot tell the difference other than the obvious spots on the jaguar. If both the cougar and jaguar were shown in black, could you tell the difference? Do you think the big cats could tell the difference for breeding purposes or is that "cougars don't mate with jaguars theory" just a barrier that humans have created in our mind? It is interesting to note that biologists transplanted Texas cougars into the endangered Florida panther population. If Texas cougars have inbred with Texas jaguars, this could further the expansion of the possibility for a black gene. Look at the photo of the Florida Panther above - it displays a black facial mask that is common only to the Florida panther.

Spotted Jaguar
Black Jaguar/Panther

You'll probably agree that both the jaguar and the cougar would look very similar in black. But, what about the spots? Both the leopard and the jaguar have spots, even black specimens maintain some spotting in their dark brown/black coats. And, have you ever noticed that cougars have spots? Well, yes, they do. Cougar cubs are born with spots that eventually fade when reaching maturity. In fact, it looks like the majority of the world's big cats either start or end with spots.

Jaguar Cub
Cougar Cub
Lion Cub
Leopard Cub
Cheetah Cub

HOW IS THE BLACK COLOR PRODUCED GENETICALLY? Black comes from the animal's genetic make-up - in jaguars it is a dominant gene mutation and in leopards it is a recessive gene mutation. A dominant mutation means that the animal can produce both black and spotted cubs, but spotted only when bred spotted to spotted. A recessive gene will produce black cubs if both parents carry the black gene. A recessive gene will also produce black cubs when bred black to black. Consider this chart showing the genetic make-up of yellow and black labrador retrievers displaying a black dominant/yellow recessive. If one animal carries a recessive gene for yellow, the puppies will all be black but one-half will have the genetic make-up of one parent and be pure black. One-half will have the genetic structure of the other parent, appearing black but carrying one dominant and one recessive gene.

IS MICHIGAN BREEDING BLACK COUGARS? Until a black cougar is secured physically, we will never know if their genetic make-up is North or South America. If it is North American, then we'll solve a long-running mystery of the black panther. If it is South American, we can deduce three things - 1) it is either a released pet; 2) it's parents were released pets that bred with existing North American cougars; or 3) jaguars in the southwest bred with North American cougars. Below is a Michigan map, by county, which combines the sighting information on black cougars and mating - you can see that the majority of counties were black cougars have been sighted also show evidence of a mating population. The rational conclusion is that Michigan could, in fact, be breeding black cougars.

(Click here to enlarge the map)

If you have the time, print the Black Sighting Map and the Black Sightings Combined with Mating map and lay one over the other. It is fascinating to see that only one area known for black cougars does not also include some indicative of a breeding population.


The Encyclopedia of The Cat, Michael Pollard, p. 333, 336, 349
Panthers of the Coastal Plain, Charles R. Humphreys, Jr., 1994;
The Cougar in Michigan: Sightings and Related Information, Patrick J. Rusz, Ph.D., Michigan Wildlife Habitat Foundation, 02/01, p. 9-12
Cougars in Illinois?, James Krohe, Jr.
The Labrador Retriever, Dorothy Howe, p. 138-139
Fur-Fish-Game Magazine, February, 2007; "Calling Lions: When the Hunter Becomes the Hunted" by Jerry Lange