We Saw a Big Cat

by Beth

To better understand this post, first go to YouTube and search “Tennessee black panther.” After you’ve watched all the videos of black house cats with people snickering in the background, you’ll understand how we felt about our neighbors’ stories about a black panther on the mountain. We were not believers.

After all…

  • According to State wildlife officials, there are no big cats in east Tennessee.
  • If there were big cats, they’d be mountain lions, which usually aren’t black.
  • Appalachia is all about legends. Exhibit A (“He had beautiful hair”)
  • The same neighbors who told us about the black panther also said a baboon tried to steal their grandbaby off the front porch.

We figured locals were initiating us with tall tales and filed the panther story under “nope.”

Until We Saw One
It was a rainy February Sunday. Instead of freezing on a hike or being bored at dome, we went driving. The goal was to tour our mountain. You can drive all the way around it on country roads if you have an hour or 2.

Old Mill

All kinds of neat things can be found on its slopes: an old mill, a springwater bottling company, antiques stores, caverns, a baked-beans factory, and, oh yeah, a black panther. Walking across a field, disappearing over a hill a split second before I could snap the zoom lens on the camera.

blurry black panther in the distance
Before the zoom lens, Chris’ iPhone caught a panther smudge.

“Prove it,” you say? Like our neighbors, we cannot. But, like many of our neighbors, we now know there’s a huge black cat lurking no more than a mile as the crow flies from our domestead.

empty field
After the zoom lens. Doh.

What Does It Mean?
You might think, okay, you guys saw an animal that doesn’t exist. It may seem as simple as that. But it changes everything. We now have to watch out for another top-of-the-food-chain predator, and it turns out something that sounded like legend is actually truth. When the impossible becomes reality, everything is possible. Squatches. Boohags. Smoky Mountain baboons. We can no longer dismiss any wild hazing stories.

Now we have our own unbelievable story to tell, and it’s fun hearing others’ stories about panther sightings. One said how glad she was that the panther was still alive. She hadn’t seen him in 6 years. Another said he ran up on a couple panthers while mowing the lawn 8 years ago. Another talked about being terrorized by panthers during a camping trip. Others have only heard of mountain lions and panthers here, but they believe.

When I reported back to the neighbor who first told us about the black panther, I barely had the words out before he said, “That’s the male.” It was surprising he knew this based on the limited information I’d provided, but we have no reason to doubt him. Not anymore.

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