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Tracking the Carrabelle Cat: Florida’s black panther mystery

March 14, 2012

Within the field of monster hunting (cryptozoology), much ado is made about such notable, enigmatic creatures as Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Chupacabra. But, among the lesser-known ‘cryptids’ that are reported with regularity are ABCs — Alien Big Cats. Frequently referred to as Black Panthers, these large, elusive felids have been spotted all over the United States, despite the fact that there are no known, native big cats that match the descriptions.

The American mountain lion, also known as the cougar or puma, can obtain lengths of seven feet and weights approaching 150 pounds, but they are typically tawny, brown or gray and no known black specimens have ever been documented. Bobcats are not considerably bigger than large house cats and are easily identifiable by their high haunches and stubby tails.

Recently, I joined up with some other mystery animal researchers, as we attempted to solve the mystery surrounding one such phantom cat. Multiple sightings and even an alleged video have emanated from a place known as Tate’s Hell State Forest in the Apalachicola region of Florida’ s panhandle over the past two years. And interest in the enigmatic cat is so great that the Carrabelle City Commission extended our group an official invitation to track the beast; perhaps one of the first times that a Western governmental body has endorsed such an investigation.

Stalking an elusive predator in an area that is comprised of many miles of foreboding wilderness is a tall order indeed. Fortunately, we had the benefit of working with the Bear Creek Feline Center in nearby Panama City, which boasts a menagerie of exotic big cats including Florida panthers and Mexican jaguarundis. In addition, my team had obtained a slew of technological gadgets including heat-sensing, night vision, and motion activated surveillance cameras, in order to aid us in our quest.

We spent about three days in the vast terrain looking for tracks, scat, and other spoor that would indicate a big cat might be present. Unfortunately, torrential rains and thunderstorms kept us in our tents for a large portion of the time, hindering our efforts considerably, though ultimately we did manage to reach two conclusions. First: We were able to reconstruct the only alleged video of the animal using a panther-sized replica. By visiting the exact location where the film was shot, we were able to determine that the subject in the video stood only 13″ tall … well within the size range of a domestic cat. However, based on interviews with local hunters, in addition to a limited survey of the 80,000 acre wilderness, we came away convinced that a large, elusive felid may indeed be present.

Various theories that have been put forth to explain sightings of the Carrabelle Cat include misidentifications of feral tomcats, mutant, melanistic panthers, or even an escaped leopard. Has anyone seen a black panther in the San Antonio area? — Ken Gerhard

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  • OftenLate

    There was one at the zoo, I photographed him.

  • Julieanne

    I just spotted a pair in central florida at a wild life refuge.I was about 30 yards away.I sat down my backpack for a moment to retreive my water bottle and when I looked back up they were running over the berm from one side of the marsh which contained some scrub and forest to the other side which led down into a marsh.I have viewed both panther,bobcat,black bobcat and feral cats in and around the central florida  area.They were bigger than the bobcats I’ve seen and smaller than the other panther.When I saw my first panther last year it was in another park and I pulled up right next to it in my car.It was a juvenile,it still had light spotting like a kit,but the spots were almost gone.It was about 75 lb.s judging by its size compared to my own dog.When I entered my sighting in the guest book I didn’t mention they were black.I guess I didn’t want to believe it.It was 12:30 p.m. and bright sunlight and the road on the berm is white sand against the green of the marsh.It’s hard to miss a black animal.They’re have been signs of hunted birds left on the berm, just the feathers left like a cat.Yes there are lots of alligators.But why in the world would an alligator leave the protection of the water and dragged its prey up an incline to eat it and delicatley leave just the feathers.Other cats are known to be there including bobcats.I was ther another evening w/ a friend and we both heard a bobcat scream.I got a good look at the second cat because it paused on the right side of the path and looked at me.It was about 50lbs.I think it was a juvenile.I only saw the other cat flash past and go into the marsh.I definitely think there is some mutation in the panther population,causing this dark color.

  • Julieanne

    I just spotted a pair in central florida at a wild life refuge.I was about 30 yards away.I sat down my backpack for a moment to retreive my water bottle and when I looked back up they were running over the berm from one side of the marsh which contained some scrub and forest to the other side which led down into a marsh.I have viewed both panther,bobcat,black bobcat and feral cats in and around the central florida  area.They were bigger than the bobcats I’ve seen and smaller than the other panther.When I saw my first panther last year it was in another park and I pulled up right next to it in my car.It was a juvenile,it still had light spotting like a kit,but the spots were almost gone.It was about 75 lb.s judging by its size compared to my own dog.When I entered my sighting in the guest book I didn’t mention they were black.I guess I didn’t want to believe it.It was 12:30 p.m. and bright sunlight and the road on the berm is white sand against the green of the marsh.It’s hard to miss a black animal.They’re have been signs of hunted birds left on the berm, just the feathers left like a cat.Yes there are lots of alligators.But why in the world would an alligator leave the protection of the water and dragged its prey up an incline to eat it and delicatley leave just the feathers.Other cats are known to be there including bobcats.I was ther another evening w/ a friend and we both heard a bobcat scream.I got a good look at the second cat because it paused on the right side of the path and looked at me.It was about 50lbs.I think it was a juvenile.I only saw the other cat flash past and go into the marsh.I definitely think there is some mutation in the panther population,causing this dark color.

  • cherokee

    yes ,,on the south side just off of 1604 on a streert called spanish grant,,,my neighbor says he saw one and reported it and the investigators found the tracks of the animal and assured him it was not an alley cat,,,,,

  • Estaven

    This is one of the most persistent rumors in the South.  I have heard this one since I was a boy over 40 years ago.  And I have heard it repeated from Texas to Florida.  It just ain’t so.

  • Estaven

    This is one of the most persistent rumors in the South.  I have heard this one since I was a boy over 40 years ago.  And I have heard it repeated from Texas to Florida.  It just ain’t so.

  • Anonymous

    I am a City Commissioner in Carrabelle, and was on site with Mr Gerhard for this expedition. You can view the “alleged” video under consideration by searching, “Big Black Cat Carrabelle Tate’s Hell”
    There are 2 videos so please look and #2 where the cat is walking away from Larry,  who is on a deerstand about 20 feet high. Around frames 22-29, you will see the cat step into the brush and mark its presence. I was asked by some Florida Wildlife people to find some reference point from which to take a measumentt.  I went to the site within days of the event and determined that where the animal marked a small blackberry bush. and it exits, it as directly across from two small pine saplings at frame 29 of the video. Then I put a marker on the line of sight from Larry’s tree and measured the distence between them as 8 1/2 inches/  I have a photos of this process if intersted.  I put frame 29 to full screen on my computer then witha a caliper measured the distance between the saplings and the cat from nose to base of the tail, 6/32nds and 22/32nds respectively giving a ratio of about 3.4 inches.  Using this factor times 8 1/2 inches makes the cat about 30 inches long, 20 inches high and the tail 24-25 inches.  I pointed out the saplings, the bush and line of sight and basis for my calculations toMR. Gerhard snd his associate MR. Hales but apparently therenot impressed.  Instead. they had a black cardboard cut-out of some kind of cat and set t up in ther road a little short of the loccation of the cat in the video.. I  recieved a photo taken of the cardboard cat apparently taken from the top of a vehicle and obviously not  from a 20 foot deer stand.  My analysis of that photo is that is forshortened as when a fisherman holds a small fish toward the camara making it appear larger  than the background. and in this way exagerating the cardboard cat in comparison to the video cat.  The video is what it is, taken on the spot as it happenned and un edited. because Larry sent it to me on facebook that same day.  Larry also quessed the cat weighed in the neighbor hood of 50 lbs.  I have seen the cat on three occassions and I agree.with Larry  I have a data base of other sightings in this area, and each one says they look like the video cat. I also have photos and plaster castings of feline prints 2 3/4 wide and 2 1/2 inches long take from just a short distance from the video site
    Mr. Gerhard  didn’t seem interested in my findings then but I would
    invite him to comment on them now if if he will.
     My  personal opinion is that it is not a panther or jaguarundi. Is it exotic, indigenious, or hybid? I do not know, but I stand on my calculations.  Isit just a large Housecat?  If my figures are corrrect then we have another problem .

  • Marcus miles

     Do regular Mountain lion reports count?  I know of several in the Winchester ,Texas area. Also have pics of flying squirrels at my bird feeder. It has been difficult to get people to believe me about these creatures. Call me for more details- 512 422- 6115, Marcus,

  • Ken Gerhard

    Hi Cal! I do greatly appreciate your invitation and the superb hospitality you extended to our team. In addition, I was duly impressed by the testimony that both you and Larry gave with regard to all of the Carrabelle Cat sightings. However, I also feel that, while unusually large… the subject in the video is not as big as it appears. It is pretty easy to line up the location where the cat was standing in the 2nd video, based on a few landmarks, (despite two years of brush growth), including the robust tree in the foreground and the bend or cut in the back. Also, Lee was up in a tree filming just adjacent to where Larry’s tree stand had been placed. Granted he wasn’t up 20 feet, but close enough to make an accurate determination, I think. Since our cut-out model was on the smallish size, (standing only 17″ tall at the shoulders), a height estimate of 13″ and length of about 24″ is reasonable for the cat in the video, which is clearly smaller than the cut-out. Also, I can’t help but notice that the subject has a very slender build and long legs. In addition, it carries its tail pointed up a lot of the time, which is posture most commonly associated with a domestic cat and not a wild one. I am absolutely interested in your findings and believe that a large felid may indeed prowl Tate’s Hell. However, I have to respectfully disagree with you, with regard to the size of the cat in Larry’s video. I hope you can understand that the scientific process often includes differences of opinion. No hard feelings, sir.

  • Larry

    Their search consisted of a visit to the feline center to get free samples for a”mock”scrape in the area were video was shot, not were recent sightings have been reported! These guys were only somewhat more professional than Scott Marlowe, but are still amature glory Hunters! Their claim of the cat being only 13″is asinine, especially when you watch my other videos of the bear cubs playing in the same place the cat was videod. Myself and a few other reasonable people know the truth! The rest of these so called professionals can continue their opinions as well, maybe someday reality will douse their envy.

  • Scott Marlowe

    The problem here is in thinking that all the sightings have to be the same animal.  In all likelyhoood, they aren’t.  The sighting Jim Broaddus and his wife had off Route 267 was likely a Black Florida Panther.  Since Jim and Birtie raise panther, they know what they saw.  Robert and I had a similar experience on the way home in separate vehicles.  That animal was too large to be a smaller species.  The cat on Larry’s video is considerably smaller — based on Ken’s cutout experiment and Cal’s measurements.  Larry, being a hunter, could tell the difference between a black house cat and something else.  I suggest that the cat in the video MAY be a melanistic Geoffroy’s cat.  This is an exotic cat — about the same size as a house cat — from South America that is known to have a melanistic phase (Jim Broaddus has one such cat at his facility).  I suggest that this cat escaped from a zoo or some other keeping as the result of a hurricane or some other means and wound up in Tate’s Hell.  The cat in Larry’s video can’t be a jaguarundi as the legs are too long, the ears are not set on the head in the proper position nor are they rounded as are jaguarundi.  Finally, the animal’s tail is far too short and not carried in the same manner as the jaguarundi.  Much work remains to be done to ascertain exactly what the “Carrabelle Cat” is in terms of species.  But, the ongoing investigation has accomplished quite a bit to date.  Namely that there are several anomalous felines roaming around the Appalachicola Forest area.

  • Scott Marlowe

    I might also add that I have ruled out the possibility that the cat in Larry’s video is a Florida Panther.  This is because the legs on the subject feline are far too slender to be the robust limbs associated with Puma concolor.  This is not to say that the subject cat is not some sort of exotic species.  As I’ve previously said, I am not leaning in the direction of a Geoffroy’s Cat or some similar feline.  Obviously, the cat in the video cannot be a Bobcat at the tail and physical profile of the subject cat is entirely our of sync with that species of feline.  Having thus eliminated all of the more obvious possibilities, we’re left with a continuing “Mystery Cat.”

  • DameDeDrama

    I was surprised to read statements by ‘wild life refuge experts’ that there is no black panther. I always believed there were black panthers – because I saw one. I was driving from the Florida keys to Miami, dusk had fallen. My eyes were attracted to a movement on the left side of the road – it seemed to be almost a large shadow. It moved toward me as I was driving toward her, and I realized it was a very large black cat (not a house cat!) it had a very graceful loping movement, and at the last minute it cut across the road in front of me. I put on the brakes and slowed almost to a stop, as I wondered if I had seen a ghost. The cat’s movement was such a strong, effortless fluid motion it was hard to believe what I had seen. But I don’t believe in ghosts, nor am I prone to hallucinations . . . I know what I saw. My mom was next to me, and she wondered why I had almost stopped the car, I said I saw this large black cat, (my instinct was to call it a panther and I did), a panther, didn’t you see it? She said, no she was looking in the wrong direction, but that they do exist here, and some of the old people talk about seeing them. They are rare and it is a special thing that you saw one. This was around 1965, but the image of that black cat moving toward me and crossing in front me has stayed with me ever since.

  • http://www.blackcatsearching.co.uk/ blackcatsearching


      Very useful info. Hope to see more posts
    soon!

  • Darhffxx

    A large, black cat has been spotted three times in our community in east Bradenton, Florida.
    This past week a lady said she heard some rustling outside her home late at night and got her flashlight to investigate.  Shining it out to her trashbag she identified what she described as a black panther, at least the size of a German Shepherd. The cat looked up and stared directly at the beam of the flashlight. She said she got a really good look at the animal and has zero doubt at what she saw.  I asked her if it could possibly have been a bobcat or a large tom cat, she said it was definately not, it was a very large cat.
    Another gentlemen (a 66 year old retired school teacher)  likes to sit out and enjoy the view of the 32 acre lake at dusk, until it becomes dark and said he has seen the same cat twice.
    He described it as the size of a puma, but  black in color.  His most recent sighting was last winter and the other was the previous  year.
    These two individuals do not know one another, nor was the lady aware of the previous sightings.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KNSY5SLNFVECN3RHQGXAVKSYV4 NA

    My Sister was in Florida a few weeks ago and saw a Black Panther near the St. Lucy river, Palm City. She was riding a bike at dusk and the panther was exiting brush in front of her. She stopped and debated what to do, run like hell or stand ground and show no fear. The Cat backed up and ran back into the brush.     

  • Hoghunter1k

    hoghunter1k@@gmail:disqus .com    when hunting in the green swamp area 6 years ago I also have seen a black panther lying up on a large limb walked over to the area after it  left and yes it was a large cat as big as a st. Bernard dog.  One year later I have seen probably the same cat I am totally convince it was a large black panther. Andy K

    a

  • candi

    Just saw a very large black cat which look like a panther in a small wooded area in Northern Tallahassee…tried to search what it could be…confused.

  • Claire

    No way, looked like a house cat to me!

  • calallen

    Hi Claire,
    Just by looking at the video, I can understand why you feel it is just a housecat. However, I will be glad to send by e-mail my photos of the ruler at the two pine samplings showing 8 1/2 inches and of the overal all scene and placement of the ruler. I have drafted of a response letter to Mr. Gerhard in response to an E-mail from him, in which he places Mr Hale’s photo of the cut- out cardboard cat along with frame 29 of the video cat. for comparison. In that letter he states the cut-out cat is about 3/4′s the size of a Florida Panther and the video cat is about 3/4′s the size ot the cut-out. Thus his conclusion that the video cat is about 13 in, in height. and 24 in. in body length. In my draft I “cut and paste” the cut-out cat along side the video cat and suprisedly found the video cat is at least as LARGE if not LARGER than the cut-out as well as having a thicker body and fuller legs and by the way the video does not carry the tail high except for the 3 or 4 seconds it apparently steps off the trail to mark it’s territory.
    Therefore, that being true, using the same reasoning, the photo comparison’s method would prove the vidio cat is at least 3/4′s the size of the Florida panther. It would also confirm my measurment system as fairly accurate. and in agreement with Larrys sighting (see comments under the video). There are also other discrepencies, that I also found in the photo comparisonI..
    I have not sent my draft to Mr Gerhard since I felt it would not be productive, but now I guess I should go ahead and send it in fairness. We continue to have “sightings” in this area of what is being called the “mysterious Carrabelle Cat”.
    If you are interested in further information, feel free to contact me at: calallen@att,net
    Cal

  • calallen

    A Minor correction: My draft letter is to Mr Lee Hale, an associate of Mr Gerhard, who posted the e-mail and comparison Photos of the cut-out cat and video cat The expetition consisted of Larry Miller, Scott Marlowe, Robert Reese, Ken Gerhard, Lee Hale, and myself/. Mr Hale’s comments were about the size differences. Please accept my apology.
    Cal

  • Crystal Doubleday

    I grew up in FLorida and my friends dad had a fish farm and we used to have to come in after dark because of a black panther. It was defintely black we saw it walking near their driveway.

  • elmoflim

    Recently I’ve found out about the myth of “black panthers” though I’ve seen a few of them in my lifetime. I’ve had one cross the street while my dad and I were heading home from camping. Now that I know next time I see one I’ll take pictures… though I think they’re just black mountain cats

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1322148834 Christina Condy

    30 years ago when I lived in Florida, there was a black panther that continuously was on the path from our house to the bus stop. I passed the cat every single morning for a month and just as suddenly as it arrived it was gone. I never forgot that cat and I never gave a thought to why it was there. But it was NOT a house cat it was as big as my BMX bike and stood there staring at me as I calmly walked my bike past. She never bothered me at all. So they can say what they like but there were still wild cats in Florida then and I would guess they are still there now. They are just smart enough to stay away from humans who would capture them and destroy them.

  • ruby mills

    There is Black Panthers or was in Florida years ago. I seen them. They would cross in front of us when we’d be workings cows. And at night they would scream a blood curling scream. If during hunting season a deer was shot and not recovered the Black panther would find it and eat what he wanted and cover the rest up with anything around the carcus after dragging it out of sight. Absolutly they were here! I hope they still are. It would be ashame to be gone forever:)

  • Mlk

    Grew up in florida panhandle and heard about a black panther in the local swamp, near bagdad, fl. I was driving my truck near there one night about 35 mph, and what looked like a large cat jumped right in front of us, took a sharp 90 degree turn and out ran us for a minute then jumped back into the woods. Never saw a deer move like that so we were certain we saw a black, or very dark brown, panther.

  • ken mudworkspottery

    a large black cat with a long bushy tail, about thirty to forty pounds was in the west side ditch of the cut off road from newport to st marks .. last month.. as we drove closer , it jumped and ran up the low embankment and into the woods on the west side of the road.. the movement and appearance was clearly a cat and the size was approx twice the size of our twenty pound dog…ken 926 7473

  • ken mudworkspottery

    i saw a large black cat on the road from newport to st marks last month.. guess it was about thirty five pounds..

  • watcher

    Thanks for an unbiased account

  • watcher

    melanistic bobcats have can weigh up to 50 lbs and have a tail as long as 18 inches

  • Shannon

    My boyfriend has lived in South Florida all of his life. He swears that he always thought the Florida panther was black because he has seen 3 or 4 (that he guesses to be well over 100 pounds) south of Lake Placid.

  • Angelbeary1

    I have seen him twice, once when I was a toddler and second time when I was 26 same area too. Crazy but I have seen that cat.

  • tom

    a few years back I seen a black (thought was a panther until I just looked up Florida panthers and realized they’re a tan color)…in Grant, Florida, on a dirt road in between Palmbay and Fellsmere. I always thought it was a Florida panther but now I wonder what it was. It was bigger than my pit lab mix so I know it wasn’t a normal black or dark colored cat. I got out of the car and walked towards it and it stared at me until I got too close for comfort, then it ran into the palm frawns.

  • Edward Donohoe

    No BULL in 1990 was living on Atlantic bld, Pompano Beach we were going to the movies inland mall that wasn”t complete just movie theater. Its was in a marsh like place, we were leaving n heading home I was looking down a dirt rode n out of the weeds came a black, long,lean, about 30/35 inches tall with a fuzzy long tail about 18/24 inches n it was from the CAT FAMILY NEVER FORGOT IT can still see it running across the rode n that fuzzy BLACK tail disapearing into the weeds. 23 YRS AGO THEY R OUT THERE. TRUE STORY

  • Terri Lanier

    Two days ago on my way to work a large black cat crossed the street in front of me . I live in East Milton Florida on 10acres. Behind my property is approx. 146 acres of woodland and the adjacent property is approx. 647 acres of state forestry. Not very far below the 146 acres is a large reserve that belongs to Eglin Air force base, I have seen black bear, wild boar, deer, coyote, fox but this is the first time I’ve seen a large black cat. Has anyone else seen it?

  • Patrick Ian Curtis

    I think people won’t believe this, but I saw a very large predatory cat race across US 19 from the westside to the eastside. It ran right into a dense treeline without breaking stride or slowing down. It was approximately 5 miles south of Spring hill, the time was 10:27 pm.

  • Charles

    While on vacation in Florida with my grandparents approximately 30 years ago we all saw a large black cat cross the road in front of us taking up the width of one lane (tail included). Not sure of the road but think it was referred to as alligator alley. No doubt in my mind that they exist or did at one time.

  • Ron

    Ron,
    I was a law enforcement officer for years and after retiring worked for the government patrolling government properties in west central Florida. This was after 911 and I patrolled on an ATV during that time I saw two panthers and one cub .one of the times I was with a biologist who worked for the state we notified game and fish and they basically called us liers and said there were no panthers in central Florida,but there are about 75 panthers killed on the road’s all the was from the panhandle I 10 down 75 and 95. My point is, all wildlife officers are conditioned to deny any sightings on a panther, black or otherwise. Look at the video from Lousiana, the wildlife people said it was a domestic house cat. However, look at the ears which are rounded and the tail which I’d stubby at the end . Furthermore this cat was crouched down and there “poster” was as upright as you could get. They used to deny white tigers until someone captured on and put it in a zoo!

    Thanks,

  • jason

    I’m jason , I drive a truck in tampa area and was coming south on highway 301just n. Of tampa and I seen a black panther cross the highway in front of the car ahead of me. I was a skeptic but now a true believer. I could tell its size in comparison to the car and it crossed the road into the woods in the blink of an eye. It was tall and long with high shoulder blades and a long tail that curved up at the end.

  • big boss b

    I saw a black panther while riding my 4 wheeler on drayton island in lake george. While I turned into my driveway it was leaping the driveway apparently to leave no tracks in the sand. It was so black that it was almost shiny. I believe they remain very elusive because of fear of the florida panther which is very territorial.

  • clp

    No sightings in Texas, but I did catch a glimpse of a black panther near Spanish Harbor bridge in the lower Florida Keys just before sunset once. My father said he’d heard of it, too.

  • Frfghtrweaver

    I saw one of these on arbuckle rd crossing into arbuckle wma October this last year and had no idea what it was. It was increadably black and about 5 feet long not counting the tail.

  • CDupree

    I live in southwest Florida and commute daily between the Everglades and Naples….. About six months ago I saw a full size black panther on the side of the road from a distance of about 300 yards…. I know what I saw… No mistaking the long tail and cat movements! I’ve spent my entire life in the outdoors and know the difference between bears, coyotes and other animals. It was very interesting! Two weeks ago I saw a baby panther in almost same exact spot…. But colored normally. I wish I could have gotten a picture! I look for it every day now!

  • http://www.2daymag.com meysam

    Thanks for an unbiased account
    عکس

  • Damien McLeod

    What about the Jaguarundi? Theyr’e native to central america but there maybe feral populations in Florida introduced in the 1940s. Some Jaguarundis are black.

  • Causeman

    I saw one at Canaveral national seashore about thirty years ago. Black,long legs, body about 30-36″ long. Long panther-like tail. It crossed a gravel road in front of us and stayed crouched in the scrub as we slowly drove past. They definitely exist.
    I have seen one in Ocala National Forest also.