Black panther in northwest Louisiana? Well it says so on Facebook, so it must be true! Not!
Every year, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries gets dozens of reported sightings of large cats, both tan and black. When investigated, almost all of these claims turn out to be more common species such as house cats, bobcats, otters, dogs, or even feral hogs.
“But my buddy has a picture on his game camera!” For the past two weeks, a picture of a black leopard has been circulating throughout northwest Louisiana with the claim that it came from a local game camera. This stirred local interest among those who believed it was the evidence needed to prove the existence of black panthers in Louisiana. Unfortunately, this identical picture was also posted on wildlife forums and Facebook in Tennessee on Nov. 8, North Carolina on Oct. 22, and Georgia on Oct. 1. Where does the picture originate? Africa. (http://showme.co.za/nelspruit/news/chasing-mpumalangas-black-leopard/).
A similar picture of a mountain lion, supposedly taken in Louisiana, has been circulating through southern Louisiana. That picture originated in Minnesota. What does this all mean? Be a skeptic and don’t believe everything you see on social media.
“But cougars exist in the United States!” While the mountain lion/cougar/panther is native to the United States, Louisiana does not have a population of these large felines. There are some claims of mountain lions that, after investigation, turn out to be legitimate cougars. Individual sightings were verified in 2002, 2008 and 2011. These are likely young individuals dispersing from existing populations or escaped ‘pets’. Cougars from populations in surrounding states can travel hundreds of miles and may visit Louisiana on rare occasions.
As for the black cat variety, no claim has ever been authenticated. Black jaguars and black leopards are not native to the United States. Jaguars are from Central and South America and leopards are from Africa. Jaguars have been reported crossing the Mexican border into southern Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, yet are the spotted variety and are found in the dense chaparral and brush lands. This is not to say that individuals may never escape from a zoo or be purposefully released by someone whose exotic pet has gotten too big, but the odds are the same as seeing a zebra in your food plot. Possible, but not probable.
“But I’ve seen one in my back yard!” If you are able to photograph a large cat believed to be a non-native species that could be a threat to domestic animals and people, contact your local LDWF Wildlife Division field office. Field office contact information is available at http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/wildlife-field-offices-and-telephone-numbers .
In addition to photos, evidence such as tracks, cache (stored kill), scat, and hair help biologists identify the animal and any additional course of action necessary.