A couple of years ago now, good friend, zoologist and all round great researcher Dr Karl Shuker, discovered a strange and intriguing antique print in a bookshop at Hay-on-Wye. He wrote of his find in one of the Centre for Fortean Zoology Yearbooks because the painting showed what was labelled as a ‘puma’ from the Zoological Gardens of London. “So, what’s so mysterious about a puma in a zoo?” I hear you ask. Well, the puma in the print is actually melanistic! For many years debate has raged as to whether ‘black’ pumas actually exist in the wild, but evidence is pretty non-existent. Most specimens purported to be melanistic have been dark brown, but nowhere near as dark as melanistic leopards.
I whisked £3 out of my pocket and came out of the shop excited at my find, wondering just how rare this image was. The painting in glorious colour, shows exactly how a melanistic puma would look, with its slate grey underside and dark, almost deep charcoal, coat.
In my recent book Mystery Animals of the British Isles: London I looked at many strange animals that were housed at London Zoo over the years, from a white puma, to some now sadly extinct species, but a black puma is such a mysterious creature. I’ve seen a couple of photographs of alleged melanistic pumas in zoo parks, and although dark brown they don’t have the look of the cat in this painting. So, maybe a rare specimen had turned up in the Zoological Gardens and I’m guessing it was painted rather accurately, unless of course the animal hadn’t been a melanistic puma but possibly another cat such as the golden cat. Even so, whilst the rare painting, and the rare cat it shows, is a mystery, it does not - of course - mean we have black pumas roaming the
There is no reason whatsoever for black pumas to exist in the UK woodlands, or lions, tigers and cheetahs, and yet somehow these animals continuously crop up in the headlines and then of course, those who get sucked in by the headlines begin to scoff at all other exotic cat reports.
Only recently the Croydon Advertiser quoted me as saying there were “pumas and cougars” roaming the woods of
A real mystery is the ‘puma’ painting, and this type of find instils in me a sense of excitement that even in today’s commercial and dire shopping experience, there are still a few shops out there that harbour a few mysteries, but whether the woods of our country do, is a debate that will rage whatever evidence is unearthed.