By Miriam Raftery
February 5, 2014 (San Diego’s East County) –After our January 22 report, “Are black wildcats prowling East County?” on numerous reported sightings of large black wildcats in East County, we have spoken with numerous other people whose accounts suggest that sightings of black cats close in size to mountain lions have been occurring in our region for decades.
Assistant Border Patrol Chief Rosario “Pete” Vasquez told ECM, “I saw one on Mountain Laguna, maybe 20 years ago. It was daytime and there was snow on the ground, so you could definitely tell it was all black.” The big cat weighed about 90 or 100 pounds, he estimated. Chief Vasquez said he was hiking a few hundred yards off a road when he spotted the large black cats “just laying in a big open field.”
Gene Garrity says he was hunting with a friend back in 1994 south of Alpine when they saw a massive black cat cross in front of them on the road above Loveland Reservoir. “We both thought ` black panther’ and we are both Pennsylvania farm boys,” said Garrity, adding that both he and his friend estimated the cat weighed 200 pounds or more and found “huge” paw prints. “The tail was very fat and very long ,” he added in an e-mail sent to ECM. “It was very muscular and I still get chills when i think about looking at those paw prints knowing we were probably being watched!”
Howard Cook, Chair of the Jacumba Sponsor Group, informed ECM that there have been several sightings of a very large black wildcat in the Jacumba area in recent years. “We think it’s a black jaguar from Mexico,” he said. Cook further revealed that a couple of years ago, a regular jaguar (gold with black spots) was seen at Lake Jacumba.
Officially, jaguars have been extinct in California for decades. But if a single pair survived in the wilds of East County, they may have produced cubs—and black cubs can result even from a pairing between a gold and a black jaguar, or from two black jaguars. There is a gap in the border fence at Jacumba to allow wildlife such as bighorn sheep to cross to and from Mexico—and there are jaguars in portions of northern Mexico, lending some credibility to the theory that jaguars are here and simply alluded official recognition.
Another intriguing possibility is that the big cats seen around our region could be black mountain lions. Officially, no such animal exists. But black bobcats were believed to be figments of people’s imaginations until one was killed and later, several more were positively identified.
Yet another possibility is that jaguars may have bred with mountain lions, forming an entirely new species. A zoo official said that was unlikely among separate species. But consider this: it was long considered impossible for wolves to breed with coyotes, until DNA testing on large coyotes found on the East Coast determined that they had wolf DNA.
Authorities have been skeptical, sometimes suggesting that the sightings if real must be one or more exotic escaped pets. However, the illusive nature of the big cats spotted in the wild would be inconsistent with a cage-raised pet accustomed to human contact.
Here are a few more sightings shared by our readers after our original story ran:
- Mary Shepardson posted this comment on our website: “Back in the 1980s, there were several sightings of what was apparently a melanistic (i.e. black) cougar in the eastern end of Poway near highway 67.”
- Nick Branch posted that his neighbor spotted a large black cat in a tree near a lavender farm in Valley Center, and that it was much larger than a housecat.
- A source who asked not to be named told us a large black wildcat has been seen on the La Jolla Indian reservation some years ago.
- Several recent sightings of a large black cat have been reported in Anza about 30 miles southeast of Temecula along Highway 371, a reader identified as “JustPassingThrough” posted in the comments section on our website
- Sharon Courmousis, who formerly owned a boulder-strewn ranch in Boulevard, told ECM that she saw a large black cat while driving a golf cart around her property. She said it was smaller than a mountain lion but larger than a bobcat. “It had a long tail that was wide at the end,” she said, adding that neighbors had also seen the unusual animal.
While ECM considers at least several of these reports to be credible, along with additional sightings previously reported that included one by our own reporter, there have also been misidentifications and at least one apparent hoax. An El Cajon woman recently called police and produced a photo that she claimed she had taken within the city, but an Internet search showed a seemingly identical image of a black jaguar online. Some individuals have mistaken black dogs for wildcats.
As we noted in our earlier story, alleged sightings of large black cats have been reported in many places in California. But California is far from the only state where such sightings are occurring.
John Lutz is Director of the Eastern Puma Research Network of West Virginia. He has written that “23% of all big cat sightings reported to us in states east of the Mississippi River are of large BLACK CATS with estimated weights exceeding 65 pounds. 12-15% of witnesses are professionals with college/university backgrounds as teachers, while another 20% are trained observers with wildlife, forestry management or law enforcement backgrounds, meaning they are witnesses who know what animal they are seeing.”
A blog site is devoted to sightings of purported black panthers in the vicinity of Dallas, Texas. This jogged a memory for this editor; as I child my uncle told us his parents had seen a black panther several times on their farm in a rural area not far from Dallas. (Note: There is no such species as a black panther; the term refers to either a black jaguar or black leopard, however leopards are not native to North America)
An Internet search turned up hundreds of sightings of large black wildcats, described as “black panthers,” “black jaguars” , “black mountain lions” or “black pumas.” These included numerous sightings in Australia and even several in Europe, far from the native terrain of any species of large cats.
Readers, if you have a photo taken of a black wildcat in our region, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.