Black Panther Killed Near Neosho Was Not A Mountain Lion

Story by:Guest Contributor

First posted on 06-20-2008

Experts say the large cat that frightened a woman in rural Newton County in May was not native to Missouri or even to North America. Conservation officials say that much was obvious from the cat’s color.

A Newton County sheriff’s deputy shot and killed the cat, which turned up in a residential yard May 19. The cat approached a woman, who fled indoors and called 911.

The cat was a young male whose body was approximately 3 feet long and weighed 40 pounds. Its age was estimated at six months. An initial examination showed the claws had been removed from all four of the animal’s paws. Its fur was jet black.

“When I saw the photos of this animal I knew immediately it was not a mountain lion,” said Jeff Beringer, a resource scientist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. “Old World leopards and jaguars in the New World can be spotted or black. Mountain lions vary a little in the color of their coat, but they are never black.”

That left the leopard, Pantera pardus, which is native to Asia and Africa, and the jaguar, Pantera onca, of South and Central America. Steve Bircher, curator of mammals/carnivores at the St. Louis Zoological Park, confirmed Beringer’s initial reaction, identifying the Newton County cat as a leopard.

The only wild cats native to Missouri are the bobcat (Lynx rufus) and the mountain lion (Puma concolor). While native bobcats have survived in Missouri, the last of the Show-Me State’s mountain lions probably were killed in the early 20th century. In recent years several isolated occurrences of mountain lions have been documented in Missouri. Evidence supports the theory that these cats are individuals dispersing from areas with established mountain lion populations to the west of Missouri. Conservation officials say these few confirmed sightings in no way indicate a resident population of mountain lions in Missouri.

“We can tell quite a bit about these animal’s origins by examining their bodies,” said Beringer. “The fact that the leopard from Neosho had no claws tells us it was a captive animal. It was in excellent physical condition, with plenty of body fat, but it had nothing in its stomach. That is another sign that it was escaped or released from captivity. A wild cat would be able to get food for itself.”

The pads of the cat’s paws were worn smooth, a condition commonly associated with living on a concrete floor.

Similarly, said Beringer, the bodies of mountain lions killed by automobiles in the Kansas City and New Bloomfield areas in recent years yielded important information. Both were young males, the age and sex most likely to strike out cross-country in search of territories of their own. Both had claws, were in good condition and had food in their stomachs, indicating they were competent hunters.

The Conservation Department does not regulate non-native wildlife, so the agency has no records that might have revealed where the leopard came from. The Newton County Sheriff’s Department had only one permit for an exotic cat in its files, and that was a Bengal tiger. The sheriff’s department has not received any inquiries from the owner of a missing leopard.

Sheriff’s Department officials noted that the animal appeared soon after tornadoes ripped through southwestern Missouri and northeastern Oklahoma. They speculated that the storms might have damaged the cat’s enclosure, allowing it to escape. If the person who owned it had the necessary permits to keep it, it seems likely they would have come forward when news of this leopard’s death became public. That raises the possibility that it was held illegally.

For more information about mountain lions in Missouri, visit

-Jim Low-


Southwestern Newton County Missouri, a few miles from Oklahoma, 35 miles north of Arkansas:  One sunny afternoon, back in 2004 my son who was about 12 years old at the time came running in the house all freaked out. Winded from running he said, “Mom there’s a big cat down at the pond!!!”  He was so scared he had fell out of the tree.  I thought, okay yeah, a big house cat…ok, ok calm down.  I went to the kitchen window to look down south at the pond through binoculars expecting to see a large house cat…but was shocked to see a Mountain Lion!  It stood around and walked on the pond bank a minute, then went to the fence and walked along it, the posts are 8 feet apart and it’s tail and head fit between the posts!!!  It came up closer to a grove of trees.  By then I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and had to see it with no window or anything between us.  I had ran out onto the the back porch.  I had to see it with nothing between us.  It looked up towards the house, not looking at me on the porch, but just looking around up toward our area.  I looked right at it’s face through binoculars, I know exactly what I was looking at, no mistake it was a cougar. And this was over ten years ago. We have a lot of caves here.

By Rhonda on January 06, 2015 – 1:13 am

I saw a large black cat in 1991 near the La/Tx border while riding a 4 wheeler. It ran across a dirt rd within 10 feet of me. It was about 8 ft long tail and all. Three other people have seen it in the area…one who has a deer stand near its trail. He told me he sees it all the time and isn’t going to shoot it…

By jack on December 11, 2014 – 4:53 pm

We saw a very large black cat higher than hood of car body approximately 6 feet tail unbelievably long eyes greener than any green I ever saw was midnight it was unafraid was near intersection of highways 81 & 36 in Belleville Kansas it was on 36 highway in front of enclosed cattle a vet clinic has been sited 8 miles approximately south of Belleville Kansas.

By brenda on November 25, 2014 – 3:52 am

Saw a big black cat today at the 174mm on i70 south side of hwy,in the field

By sam on November 19, 2014 – 1:34 am

There has never, ever been a documented case of a melonistic (black) cougar in the United States.  Large black cats (panthers) are either Jaguars or Leopards. Those cats are native to South America and some parts of Africa. No pictures, no dead animals, no proof. No offense, but I don’t believe a single one of your black panther sightings.  Sorry!

By Mark on September 09, 2014 – 4:41 pm

I am very angry any amaiml

I am very angry due to the fact any animal large or small has to liveand the animals and not attack they shouldn’t be killed I do believe there is mount mind Missouri and I do believe there is some form of Panther also a Bigfoot..

By ivey on April 07, 2014 – 2:08 am

This morning around 7:30 I was standing at my double glass door and saw a large black figure slowly crossing a snow-covered field just west of my home. I quickly grabbed mybinoculars and looked again. I couldn’t believe what I saw. I called to my husband and he came and looked too. It was no barn cat that’s for sure. It’s tail was at least 2.5 ft. long and it’s body was long and sleek. We watched it until it disappeared into the woods. We live in Warren Co.

By Donna on February 17, 2014 – 4:14 pm

I live on 96 hwy north of joplin a few months back in the summer abt 11pm I saw a black cat cross 96 hwy as i was heading west abt 5 mi from 43 hwy.. There is no mistaking what i saw it was so stealty very low to the ground and from head to tail was about half the width of the lane!!! However they got here they are here…I herd abt this a few yrs back and today. I met the deputy that shot the black jag in neosho and heard first hand, this is what prompted me to search this article i plan on setting up some deer cams and hopefully catch one to “show you”…. I can tell you for sure if I catch one in my yard where my kids play….. Im gonna have an incredible trophy….

By frank on February 06, 2013 – 9:27 pm

black panthers well yeah about two days ago i see one about 100 yards form my house, my wife and i walk our land like once a week and that ends at out pond, well my dog has been finding deer bone and like big one and like all kinds of deer parts i dint think nothing of it just thought some deer got shot and died back there But when i seen it i was shocked. That tail was so long S/W Missoui

By Will on February 05, 2013 – 9:30 pm

3 separate incidents. 1). ,In the 1970’s we were camping near the St Francis State Park. We not only heard the black panther panting we saw it from our tent, my dad always carried a gun after that we could of been killed it happened around 10:30pm, We were the only ones camping that night.  2). ihave seen a large mountain lion 7 years ago at my french doors leading out to a patio.  It was my first night in my new home, it had been vacant before that time for 2 years. I heard it, the cat made a real loud sound I won’t soon forget. It just went through me.  I turned on the light, I don’t know which one of us was more suprised the cat or me. It was brendal in color and had a long tail, in Perry County on the outskirts of Perryville. By the time you call someone they are gone off in the darkness like a bad dream. It scared me so bad and my cat was shaking as well. I don’t venture out around my house at night anymore the coyote are thick at night as well. I’ve seen bobcat in the area but not at my house. You know the river bluffs off Rte 3 in Illinois are loaded with mountain lions I’ve see two of them at different times off Hwy 5 and rte 3. I’m sure they swim so

it is very feasible that they are in Perry County as well.

By Linda on October 22, 2012 – 12:20 am

If ya’ll have video and pictures of black leopards living in the wild in MO….I say SHOW ME….Put up proof or shut up, because there is no wild population of black leopards in MO.

By Karen on July 02, 2012 – 9:14 am

There was a large black cat sighting in Miller County this past week.  I hadn’t heard of any sighting in about 20 years.

By Clyde on April 14, 2012 – 12:24 pm

i seen a black panther last night in hickorey county on my way home from work about 30 yards from my car and my mom and brother saw it 3 days before in a field beside my house .

By austin on January 27, 2012 – 1:09 pm

On jan. 5 2011 I saw a Large black cat dead on the edge of the highway 12 mi. north of columbia, mo. I went on home approx 3 miles and got my camera but on returning someo ne had already picked it up and it was gone. It was approx 3 to 3 1/2 ft long and I’m guessing 60# or so

By Michael Darby on January 17, 2011 – 9:26 pm

I have lived in Missouri for 25 years and have seen a large Black cat three times. twice in Dallas county and once up near Columbia. one sighting, it ran in front of my truck Approx. 30 ft’ away. no mistaking what i saw.

By Bob Cotton on June 22, 2010 – 11:09 am

one of my friends was trapping to keep harmful animals away from his cattle. This happened in March of 2009 in Barry County.  He caught a Big black cat of somekind by the toe, and got it on videotape. I’m not saying it was a panther..I don’t know what it was other than a Big Black Cat that was probably the size of my 40 lb dog.

By alison on July 11, 2009 – 9:11 am

this is zach anderson and there is mountion lions and black panthers in missouri i have sein a mountion lion when i was like 12 years old you can beleive it or not but if they really wanted to hurt eny one they would have already tried to yesterday morningthe trash company got a black panther on video camera

By zach on July 10, 2008 – 11:51 am