A black leopard (or jaguar) was sighted Saturday morning off Schaefer Road in Keene.
“Honey, I think there is a bear in the compost,” said Tsermaa Plumley around 9:30 a.m. as she listened to the sounds coming in from the outside.
“It’s too early in the season for bears,” said Dan. “Maybe it’s a fisher.”
“I heard something in the compost,” said Tsermaa to me the next day. “For some reason I looked through the window and I said, ‘It’s a huge black cat!’”
That got Dan’s attention. He got up, looked out the window and saw a huge cat. Really huge. “Stay where you are,” he said, heading down the stairs to grab his camera and race outside.
“It was walking around very slowly,” said Tsermaa. “Just roaming around. It had this very large and long tail that would wave slowly from side to side. Swish, swish. I was watching him walk on our driveway. Dan came out. He was looking for the cat but he couldn’t see him.”
“He came so close,” said their daughter Evella. “The cat was behind him.”
“The cat was just sitting there and started washing his face,” said Tsermaa. “Evella and I started yelling. The animal heard the distant noise. His ears perked up. He got attentive. Then he spotted Dan.”
“It was freaky,” said Evella. “My dad was so close to it.”
“I got a perfect view of its shoulders. They rolled when it walked. Its tail was so long. I couldn’t believe what I was looking at,” said Tsermaa.
“Clearly someone must have let it go,” said Dan. “This must have been an exotic pet that had gotten too big for its owners. Either they let it go or it escaped. Had I known it was going to hang around I would have brought the camera upstairs and photographed it from there. It had to be four and a half to five feet long from its head to the tail. I judged its length in comparison to the driveway. I think it didn’t hear me because I was in my bare feet.”
“It had a long and heavy tail,” said Tsermaa. “When it turned its head and saw Dan it loped off. When Dan showed me a picture of a black leopard on the Internet, I said, “’Oh my gosh. That’s it. That’s exactly what we saw.”
Some might think, a black panther, but they do not exist. Panther is the generic name for a variety of large cats, which includes cougars and leopards. Black leopards are actually not black but a very dark brown, and they are spotted, but the color of the spots and the fur is so close they tend to be thought of as being solid black. Nor are they native to the Americas; however, the black jaguar is. It can be found along the border with Mexico and, like the leopard, is not truly black but spotted and very dark brown. According to Wikipedia there have been a few sightings in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. And they tend to run about 50 inches long — about the size the Plumley family saw. Since the female’s home range is about 9 square miles and the males about 39 square miles, the Plumleys and others in Keene may have this visitor more than once.
Cougars used to live in the region. They are also known as pumas, mountain lions and panthers, amongst others. While they are still fairly well established in the west, and Canada, the Eastern cougar is rare, although sightings do occur as has happened this year a couple times near E-town. However, they are tan, not black. Western cougars get to be about 150 pounds for males and 100 for females.
Black jaguars can get bigger that that, but that’s the South American variety. They will eat most any protein ranging from beetles and rodents to fish and deer. Dusk and dawn are their favorite times to be out hunting, and they are not as nocturnal as once assumed. They tend to kill their prey by using their powerful jaws to bite through the heads. Once dead, they tend to haul prey into trees and dine on them there. So if you hear a crunching sound coming from above it could be our visitor.
“It was very powerful,” said Tsermaa. “It’s head moved from side to side as it walked.”
Dan Plumley showing the dimensions of the cat’s body.