Panthers rare -- never black -- in Louisiana
Recent reported sightings of a panther near Spring Bayou have been met with a mix of excitement, skepticism and humor.
“Is it from Bunkie or Buckeye,” one jokester quipped, referring to the mascot of the high schools in those communities.
The Avoyelles Parish reports are classified as unconfirmed sightings because there has been no physical or photographic evidence presented.
The panther is also called mountain lion, cougar, puma, painter and catamount.
Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries Large Carnivore Program Manager Maria Davidson doubts there is a mountain lion in the bayous of Avoyelles.
Cougar sightings are taken seriously and officials caution curious cat-sighters to steer clear of the creature.
The panther would most likely run away if approached -- but maybe it wouldn’t.
To report sightings of cougars, with physical evidence such as photos, tracks and/or scat, contact LDWF Large Carnivore Program Manager Maria Davidson at 318-377-262-2080 or mdavidson@wlf. la.gov.
There is another serious bit of advice from Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries concerning panthers.
“Penalties for killing a cougar in Louisiana may include up to one year in jail and/or a $100,000 fine,” the LDWF posted online.
“Anyone with any information regarding the killing of a cougar should call LA Operation Game Thief at 1-800-442-2511. Callers can remain anonymous and may receive a cash reward.”
Ronald Coco of Moreauville, president of Operation Game Thief, said the anti-poaching program “has never had a panther case.”
He said even if someone shot a panther and avoided the stated maximum penalty, they would still be looking at serious legal problems and heavy fines.
Davidson said there has been no confirmed sighting of a panther in Avoyelles Parish.
“Every indication is that there is no panther in Avoyelles,” she said. “In a road intensive area, such as Avoyelles, it would pop up as road kill.”
The Florida panther that once lived in Louisiana is believed to be extinct in this state.
The National Park Service said there are fewer than 100 Florida panthers in south Florida.
Most of those live in the hardwood and pine lands rather than the flood-prone marshlands. Their diet mainly consists of feral hog, white-tailed deer, raccoon and armadillo.
It is illegal for private citizens to own a cougar in Louisiana, but LDWF says there is the possibility of some being unlawfully kept as pets.
The most likely source of stray panthers would be from an expanding population in Texas forcing young panthers to seek their own territory in Louisiana. There have been confirmed sightings of such visiting panthers.
“That is not unique to Louisiana,” Davidson said. “There are several states in the South and Midwest that have documented cougars who have dispersed from Western states.”
There was a confirmed sighting in northeast Louisiana in November 2016.
The big cat was photographed by a trail camera at night.
There have been a few others this century.
There was a panther in St. Martinville’s Lake Fausse Point State Park in 2002 that was confirmed by DNA left in the animal’s droppings.
There were four confirmed panther sightings in 2008. Trail cameras in Allen, Vernon and Winn parishes each photographed a panther.
Bossier City police officers shot and killed a panther in a neighborhood on Nov. 30, 2008. DNA from that cat showed it came from a New Mexico population of cougars.
Another trail cam in Vernon caught a panther on film in 2011.
NO BLACK COUGARS
The LDWF says the panther ranges in color from a light tan to a brownish gray.
“The only species of big cats that occur as black are the jaguar and leopard,” LDWF says in an article on panther sightings. “Jaguars are native to South America and leopards to Africa. Both species can occur as spotted or black, although in both cases the spotted variety is much more common.
“Although the department has received many calls about black panthers, there has never been a documented case of a black cougar anywhere in North America,” the article notes.
“The reports of black panthers appears to be a case of the mind’s eye seeing what it expects to see and what it has determined it will see,” Davidson said.
She said she has discussed the issue with her counterparts in other states.
“In states that have an established, healthy cougar population, there are no reports of black panthers,” Davidson said.
“In Louisiana, where there is no breeding population of cougars, we receive numerous reports of black panthers.”
LDWF states that many panther sightings have turned out to be cases of mistaken identity, with dogs, bobcats or other wild animals being mistaken for panthers at a distance or in varying shades of light.
Two large, black creatures -- bears and wild hogs -- could also be mistaken for panthers from a distance and in the brush.