“If rumors reaching this city the past week are true," the article read, "a panther has been seen in the wilds a few miles south of Doe Run." Naming the sons of a resident named J. C. Arnoldi as witnesses, the story described how the men "had recently seen a panther crossing a road," noting that several others had heard the creature's unmistakable scream near the same vicinity, "which sounds too humanly agonizing as to be in itself terrifying to the uninitiated.”
The story discussed here dates all the way back to December 19, 1919, appearing in The Farmington Times, under the title, "Anyone Lost One Panther?" Despite the antiquity of the article though, reports of sightings of large, black cats in the Ozarks have seemingly continued over the ensuing decades, despite the protests of state wildlife officials.
In a recent article featured at the State of the Ozarks website, authors Joshua Heston and Clint Lacy discussed the continuing adventures of the region's most mysterious, and supposedly non-existent animal, where they note that the Missouri Department of Conservation continues to dismiss the possibility of anything akin to a black panther residing in the area.
According to a statement on the agency's website:
“Black panthers” are not native to North America, but they do exist as melanistic (black color) phases of the leopard (Panthera pardus) found in Africa and Asia and the jaguar (Panthera onca) of Mexico and Central and South America. Throughout its range, no melanistic (black) mountain lion has ever been documented by science….In 1996 MDC established a Mountain Lion Response Team (MLRT) with specially trained staff to investigate reports and evidence of mountain lions.
“The MLRT has investigated hundreds of mountain lion reports. Animals reported as mountain lions include house cats, bobcats, red foxes, coyotes, black and yellow Labrador retrievers, great Danes and white-tailed deer. Almost all reported tracks have been those of bobcats or large dogs.”
So, in essence, there are no black panthers. At least not in any official sense.
Nonetheless, according to Heston and Lacy, the reports of these "out of place animals" have continued, with a number of sightings having turned up between the 1960s and the present day. You can read their entire article on the subject, with a breakdown of several contemporary sightings, here.
Reports of black panthers have turned up a number of other unusual locations apart from the Ozark Mountains. Among the most famous instances is the alleged "Beast of Exmoor", a large, dark colored cat that has been seen near Exmoor in Devon and Somerset, United Kingdom, since the 1970s. In 1983, a South Moulton farmer claimed that several dozens of his sheep were killed by some animal that left gaping wounds on their throats.
More recently, a 2006 statement released by the UK's DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) reported that, "Based on the evidence, Defra does not believe that there are big cats living in the wild in England."
Heading back to the west, American researcher Loren Coleman collected a report from June, 1963, in which a farmer in Illinois observed something remarkably similar to the Exmoor's beast, as well as the Big Cats of the Ozarks. The man in question, Bill Chambers, said that he had coasted his vehicle to within 190 yards of the creature, where he stopped his vehicle, and climbed on top of it with his rifle and a pair of binoculars. Chambers described watching the creature for nearly 15 minutes as it moved through a field of clover, the height of which he later measured to be around 12 inches on average. Chambers' final estimate for the size of the creature he observed was between 4 and 5 feet, dark brown or black in appearance, with two "tawny streaks under the jaws."
In the United States, few (if any) panthers or mountain lions still exist, although game cameras do turn up video and still photographs of the animals on occasion. However, even in small numbers, there are no known large cats of a melanistic variety that would exist in North America, as discussed in the Missouri Department of Conservation's official statement on such creatures (cited earlier in this article).
Could all such descriptions of large, dark colored cats be simple misidentifications of house cats, or other dark-colored animals seen from a distance? As noted by one scholar of strangeness, the random alleged appearances of big black cats could be likened to the "flying saucers of the animal world" (Clark, 1999).
Then again, unlike flying saucers, there is no question about whether large black cats do exist, even if they appear to turn up in places they shouldn't from time to time.