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Mike Zuidema's thoughts on Black Cougars

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 29, 2010 6:12 pm    Post subject: Mike Zuidema's thoughts on Black Cougars Reply with quote

The following article was sent to SaveTheCougar.Org on Thu, Mar 25, 2010 at 8:18 PM

"[b]The Black Cougar Mystery [/b]

By Mike Zuidema

A small percentage of cougars reported are said to be ”black”. Black cougars have been documented in Central and South America, but never in North America. Or have they ? I recently came across a statement in the book “The Cougar or Mountain Lion“ by Claude T. Barnes which states,“ It is Mr. Hartman who has in his possession the pelt of a black cougar killed by himself in Colorado, the only black skin that I myself have seen.“ Most cougar experts, however, give zero credibility to any cougar sighting that the animal is said to be black. Very dark brown” cougars have been regularly documented in heavy forested area like British Columbia, but not pure black. The question is, what are these people actually seeing ?

Compared to cougars, melanistic bobcats are much less rare. Two small populations have been identified in southern Florida. There is speculation that melanism may be influenced by the occurrence of dark, poorly drained soils associated with the wetlands where the black bobcats were found. It is also speculated that peninsulas such as Florida (and Michigan ?) may have more inbreeding because the relatively narrow land mass of suitable habitat hinders the exchange of genes with other populations, thereby increasing the potential for melanism.

One sighting reported to me by a graduate with a degree in Wildlife Biology, told of a sighting of a cougar he thought looked black but knew enough about the debate to bring out a cardboard box and placed it in the same location that he saw the black cougar - the box also appeared black , or very dark!

When talking about inadequate light conditions relative to color identification, I remember chatting with a local bobcat / bear houndsman in my backyard as he took a break from underground cable installation at my neighbors. He proceeded to tell me about his last mountain lion hunt out west - with camera in hand instead of gun. As we talked he looked up and said, “I see you have black squirrels here, at home we only have the gray phase.” I looked up and saw two “black” squirrels chasing on the branches of some very large willow trees. Although acknowledging the black squirrels, I had never seen any near my home before. I kept visual contact with the pair as they continued their chasing while we talked. After a short time the squirrels ran across another area of the tree which had better lighting. The squirrels were then clearly seen by both of us to be the typical gray - not black. The luxury of viewing the squirrels for an extended time proved us initially wrong. Most cougar sightings are just seconds long - a factor why color determination can be wrong.

There is some evidence that black cougar kittens might have been born in the wild, but later abandoned by their mother. The owner of a small eastern U.P. family zoo had five cougars as his main attraction. Talking to him years ago he related the birth of a black cougar kitten that he said it was black all over, except where a cougar kitten is usually black - in those places it was a light gray color. Its mother refused to feed it, and after two days of bottle feeding, it died. Cougars (and bobcat) may excessively inbreed in peninsulas such as Florida and isolated populations thereby increasing their potential for melanism. Could the family zoo cougars inbred too long causing the black kitten ?

Florida Panther biologist Mark Lotz found two male kitten panthers recently that were a whitish-gray, instead of the typical tawny color with darker brown spots. Lotz said they had seen litters in the past with lighter spots, but nothing like this. It is interesting what happens in nature !

The question of the “black cougar” might have been answered by what happened at the family zoo, but unfortunately the zoo owner did not understand the importance of the incident. The issue of inadequate lighting is also a factor. That is why “black cougar“ sightings should not automatically be discounted."

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