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Tracking the Carrabelle Cat: Florida's black panther mystery 

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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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