Over the weekend, a Walker County resident, Jerel Hall, captured a photograph that he believes to be a black panther near his home in Huntsville, Texas. The large, black wild cat was reportedly spotted lurking on Hall’s property, situated about 70 miles north of Houston. The photo, taken from a distance of 120-150 yards, depicts a dark-colored feline larger than a typical house cat, featuring a distinctive long tail.
Hall estimates the cat’s weight to be between 80-100 pounds and shares that this isn’t his first encounter with such a creature in the area. He claims to have witnessed a black panther, albeit smaller, chasing feral hogs nine years ago. Hall expressed gratitude for capturing the recent sighting on camera, dispelling what he refers to as a previously mythical experience.
However, wildlife experts offer a different perspective. According to the National Wildlife Federation, black panthers are not a distinct species but are rather melanistic leopards or jaguars. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has been alerted to Hall’s photograph and is working to identify the animal. Contrary to popular belief, the TPWD asserts that black panthers do not exist in North America, clarifying that terms like cougars, pumas, and panthers are often used interchangeably for mountain lions.
Despite expert opinions, Hall’s claim aligns with previous sightings of “black panthers” in Texas, particularly in Central Texas. Notably, in 2021, comedian and podcaster Joe Rogan insisted on a black panther sighting outside his Austin home, sparking debates on the existence of such creatures in the Lone Star State.
Local reports suggest an alternative explanation, proposing that these mysterious felines might be jaguarundis. These endangered felines, slightly larger than domestic cats, are found in northern Mexico and central and South America. Weighing between 8-16 pounds, jaguarundis are typically rusty-brown or charcoal gray in color.
The species faces endangerment due to habitat loss caused by the clearing of dense brush for farming and urban development. TPWD notes that jaguarundis are considered extinct in Texas, with the last confirmed sighting recorded in Brownsville in 1986. The ongoing debate surrounding these sightings underscores the complexity of wildlife identification and the challenges associated with distinguishing between elusive species in the Texas wilderness.