Regarding Ray Cox’s discussion of cougars (Sept. 23, “Should cougars be brought back?”) and whether they should be reintroduced to Virginia:

Black panthers are already back in Virginia and West Virginia. I saw one in 2006 on my farm in northern Rockbridge County; another was reported near Cave Mountain Lake in 1998.

Quite sure I’d seen a black panther, I was completely convinced when I came upon a book called “Black Panthers — Little Known American Treasure,” by Alfred Willis, Dietz Press, Petersburg, VA. 2007. The cover picture showed exactly the same animal in the same pose as the one I’d seen leaping across one of my farm trails at dusk. Willis catalogues hundreds of firsthand panther reports in eastern states over recent decades, including 25 to 50 per year in West Virginia, but only five to six per year in Virginia.

Whether black panthers are a different species than cougars or just a rare melanistic version of the American cougar is a moot point. Both are big cats and the black ones as well as the brown ones are back in Virginia.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has steadfastly denied that these animals are in Virginia. That’s because, if acknowledged to exist, the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 would require DGIF to do mountains of paperwork to protect them and would also alienate landowners whose land is habitat for the endangered critters and therefore subject to ESA control.

Last month the Trump administration announced plans to weaken the ESA. It’s not yet clear how this might affect big cats.

Mountain lions in the western states sometimes attack humans. To my knowledge there’s never been a report of a black panther attacking a human in the eastern states, though they are a threat to smaller animals, including pets.

GEORGE PRYDE

LEXINGTON

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