Posted by: Loren Coleman on September 9th, 2011
Phantom panthers or mystery cats are part of the felid cryptozoology of the world. Now comes news of mysterious unidentified cats being seen in Afghanistan by American troops, animals that are NOT snow leopards or any other known felids for the region of the country where the cryptid cats are being sighted. The U.S. soldiers are calling them the “Kandahar Cougars.”
Eyewitnesses are saying the cats have the color of a cougar, but there are additional details that make them sound a bit non-cougar-like too.
This breaking news, cryptozoologically, is from the battle fields of Afghanistan, brought to us by an internationally-respected combat journalist.
Correspondent Michael Yon writes:
06 September 2011
Kandahar Province, Afghanistan
Task Force Spartan
There is much talk about “jaguars” or “cougars” among the troops here. At least a dozen American Soldiers claim they have seen gigantic cats in these flatlands. “Gigantic” being defined as roughly the size of a German Shepherd. During a mission, I asked about these mysterious big cats. Several US Soldiers insisted—completely insisted—they were eyewitnesses. The Afghan soldiers chuckled, saying their American counterparts were hallucinating. The Americans remained adamant. The inevitable follow-up questions came. “How do you know what a cougar even looks like? Have you ever seen one before?” An Afghan commander said to a particularly persistent American, “You saw a sheep.”
“No, it was a big cat!” replied the American.
“You maybe saw a donkey,” conceded the Afghan.
We know there are big cats in Afghanistan. This is widely accepted as fact, yet big cats are not reported living in the Zhari District of Kandahar Province. We know there are polar bears in the United States. But if you find yourself stumbling out of the Florida Everglades, ripping moss from your hair while mumbling that you saw a polar bear, locals might ask you to sit under a shade tree and enjoy an iced tea and a nap. A polar bear in Florida is as likely as an alligator in Alaska.
Snow Leopards have been photographed this year in Afghanistan, but the climate and geography in the Wakhan Corridor is extremely dissimilar, and far less populated than Zhari. We are in hot, dry country, just a short drive from the Dasht-i-Margo or “The Desert of Death.” I visited this desert in the spring of 2006 and dozens of times since.
The Afghan Soldiers refute any suggestion that there are big cats here in Kandahar. “No way,” they say, “impossible.” American Soldiers insist they have seen them by naked eye, by weapon optics, and by thermal optics that can zoom with amazing clarity. I look through these kinds of optics almost every day, and to be sure, they are so precise it’s hard to conceive anyone mistaking a sheep or donkey for a big cat. But even when Soldiers agree another Soldier may have seen a big cat, the discussion turns to, “How long did you see it? A second? Ten seconds? A minute?” Sometimes they see it for minutes at a time. Two Soldiers in separate locations claimed they saw large cats jump over high walls. One Soldier told me he saw two cats at the same time. Troops in different outfits who are miles apart are reporting seeing these cats from around Panjwai and Zhari.
Sergeant TJ Vowell (above), from McKinney, Texas, had spotted one. LTC Katona, commander of 4-4 Cav was visiting the small base called Pashmal South where TJ and his unit are stationed. They seem to get attacked every day and are dishing out the same. While LTC Katona studied a map with Captain Danny Sjursen, B-troop commander, I was asking TJ about the cats. TJ reported that sees them “plain as day” almost every morning at the same time and place. (Finally a “bingo” moment.) But then LTC Katona took a break from the map to say that TJ had recently been shot. Actually, the Commander was trying to brag about TJ, which is something you commonly see with American and British commanders. They spotlight good fighters as if they were cherished sons. LTC Katona was flagrantly bragging about TJ getting shot and returning to the fight. (Look at my son the warrior!)
Well, when you run with the big dogs in combat, you meet a lot of warriors who’ve been shot, but you don’t meet a lot of warriors who see big cats here. I wanted to ask more about the cats, but to be polite I first asked about how TJ got shot. And besides, there’s never a boring way to get shot.
[T.J. tells the story of the shooting.]
So, with the gunshot story over, I asked TJ what color is the cat he’s been seeing. He sees the cat almost every morning, and it’s brown and has spots or stripes. He said it stays about 300 or 400 meters away, and sometimes hangs out for up to twenty minutes. I asked if he’d stake it out with me if I came back, because with my camera gear we can practically get its eye color from 400 meters. He said sure, come back and we’ll stake it out.
It might not be long until we settle the question of the Kandahar Cougar.Michael Yon
About the author of this reportage: Michael Yon
Michael Yon is a former Green Beret, native of Winter Haven, Florida, who has been reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan since December 2004. No other reporter has spent as much time with combat troops in these two wars. Michael’s dispatches from the frontlines have earned him the reputation as the premier independent combat journalist of his generation. His work has been featured on “Good Morning America,” The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CNN, ABC, FOX, as well as hundreds of other major media outlets all around the world.
Yon has written a critically acclaimed memoir, Danger Close. In 2008 Michael published his second book, Moment of Truth in Iraq, which is packed with heart-rending tales from the battlefields. He is the author of other books of his reports from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Thanks for the newstip from Rob Carignan.