What States Are Leopards In Located In North America?

Is it possible that black jaguars are responsible for some of the black panther sightings? Are black jaguars newly returned to the US also or have they been here all along? Perhaps natural selection played a role in their survival - black cats might have been better able to stay out of sight and avoid being killed by hunters.

In many instances, witnesses to the black cats may be misjudging their size. A jaguarundi is a cat closely related to the cougar but much smaller. It can occur in several colors including solid dark gray or chocolate brown. The cat is known to live in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Florida. Jaguarundis have also been reported in several states bordering these ones. From a distance, people would notice the jaguarundi's build is unlike that of a house cat (see photo at right), and it has a very long, thick tail like a cougar's. It could easily resemble a black panther. Plus, the jaguarundi likes the daylight hours, making it easier to be spotted by humans.

The exotic pet trade might provide another reason for black panther sightings. In 2009, the Humane Society of the United States pointed out that of the estimated 5,000 to 7,000 tigers in the country, only 10 percent are in zoos: the rest are privately owned. It's the same with many other big cat species, as it has been unbelievably easy to purchase these animals as pets in the past (more and more legislation is being written now to ban exotic pets). Dealers may employ selective breeding to create a more attractive (and expensive) "product", including black panthers. Big cats may escape or may be deliberately set free by owners who can no longer afford to keep them. Most don't survive on their own for long - but some just might.

Another possibility exists because most big cat species can interbreed, and many big cats possess the genes for a black coat. If a pet leopard escaped or was released, is it far-fetched to imagine that it might breed with an indigenous mountain lion? For that matter, a wandering wild jaguar might meet up with a wild cougar. In either case, some new DNA might be introduced into the existing wild population.