Unsurprisingly, I have not been able to find a photograph of a black mountain lion so I created one (or two). They are not that great but they give an idea of what a black puma might look like; not dense black but “melanistic”.

Black Mountain Lion

Here is another attempt (this is better, I believe):

Black Mountain Lion

The mountain lion is the largest native North American cat. It is a retiring cat which rarely confronts humans. Its size is frequently overestimated. Compared with other large cats, the mountain lion has unusually long hind legs, which are probably adapted for jumping. The long, lanky appearance should be a guide to cougar sightings.

The mountain lion is a plain-colored cat. Its coat color varies from a “grizzled” gray to a dark brown with “intermittent shades of buff, tawny, and cinnamon red”. The color changes geographically.

In warmer, more humid areas, the coat color is darker. In drier places the coat is lighter.

Along the back, the coat color is more intense compared to the shoulders and sides. The chin, throat and belly area are shades of white.

Black mountain lions are called “black panthers” by some people. Technically they are called “melanistic pumas”. Melanism refers to the dominant gene mutation that leads to the creation of “melanin”, the dark brown/black pigmentation in skin and hairs.

S.P. Young refers to black panthers being shot in South America in The Puma, mysterious American cat (1946?). On this website there are a number of pages on sightings of large blacks cats. None of the sightings are verifiable.

In the past, biologist/authors have referred to black mountain lions. This is a reference to the Eastern Cougar:

Black Puma sightings. Extracted from: The Eastern Cougar: Historic Accounts, Scientific Investigations, and New …edited by Chris Bolgiano, Jerry Roberts (2005). The page is published on Google Books as a preview. You can see the page from which this image comes.

In North America there have been thousands of reported sightings of black mountain lions but none have been authenticated. They are a bit like the Loch Ness Monster. Personally, I see this is as an expression of a subliminal fear of the (a) the dark and (b) the unknown and a throwback to the days when people were genuinely under threat from big cats.

There are no museum skins of black pumas (“puma” is the more scientific name for this cat). However, in the past and today, USA sightings of black pumas occur with regularity in much the same way that big cat sightings occur in the UK.

Interestingly, black panthers are the most commonly seen big cat in Florida where there are scarcely 100 mountain lions in total. Scientists say that there are no black panthers in Florida. What they say should be treated as accurate because the Florida Panther is one of the most studied wild cats on the planet with most of them carry radio collars. Many have been photographed and followed since birth.

1820 print of a black puma

Sarah Hartwell, the doyen of mysterious mutated big cat information, writes that a American hunter, Thomas Roosevelt, records shooting a puma that was “slatey-grey”. This is different to the black puma, in my opinion. The puma, as mentioned has a variety of colors and densities. Guggisberg, she writes, reported black mountain lions in Central and South America but not the United States or Canada. There are other reports of melanistic pumas in S. America, apparently.

Black mountain lion sightings are almost invariably black domestic cats seen at a distance in perhaps poor light. People are rather suspect at judging the size of cats at a distance when imagination plays a large role.

However, many people would argue that all the sightings can’t be wrong.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • Four of us saw a black cougar on a sunny day in May within a mile of the Schragg grain elevators east of Moses Lake, WA. The first thing I said was...is the circus in town? It was as tall as a Great Dane but it was so graceful as it moved. It took one leap and was across the road and gone. Probably following dried up crab creek. It was not a dog because it had that flat cat face and long low hanging tail...and it was as black as night.

      • We did. I will never forget it. That was back in 1994. At that time there were reports of a black cougar seen in N. Idaho, which makes sense. Their range is definitely that large. He was magnificent really!

    • Yes, a fabulous cat. I hate with a vengeance people who hunt the mountain lion with dogs and rifle. I could willingly hunt the hunters myself and would certainly shoot them if it was legal. Sound extreme? Maybe it is but it is true.

        • I love the puma. So beautiful. Only an extremely insensitive and ignorant person could hunt it with dogs and rifle. And the people who proudly declare - as if to even things up - that they used a crossbow and arrows or a bow and arrows are worse. For me they are hateful self-serving, ill-educated fools in denial of what they are doing.

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