Posted by: Loren Coleman on April 16th, 2008
Relatively old-fashioned wildlife and outdoors reporters are few and far between today, and especially in big city papers. But San Francisco is lucky enough to have one: Tom Stienstra.
Stienstra has a history of being open-minded enough to pen and tackle thoughtful pieces on Sasquatch, which seems reasonable concerning his location. He also appears to be very aware of the jet-black felids that are often seen in Marin County and around the East Bay area.
One difference I do have with this reporter, however, is his unfortunate and incorrect use of the word “mythic.”
“Myths” are wrongly used with cryptids. Myths are a traditional story about heroes or supernatural beings, often attempting to explain the origins of natural phenomena or aspects of human behavior, or a false belief, or fictitious thing. But undiscovered animals, which might turn out to be real or misidentified or new species, while perhaps “legendary” or “folkloric,” are hardly “mythic.”
Legends and folklore can be based on reality; myths are not. People actually seeing a creature, beast, or animal hardly constitutes a mythical situation. The black panthers of northern California are not centaurs and unicorns. There exists a major difference between “mythic beasts” and “legendary cryptids,” but reporters continue to use the terms and phrases incorrectly.
In Mysterious America, I detailed the “black panthers” of Mt. Diablo (named after the Devil, of course) in the East Bay and at other California locations. The comprehensive listing of sightings was Cryptomundo-published too, here.
Now, from California, Stienstra shares news of a recent close encounter of the feline kind:
The Bay Area’s ultimate wildlife mystery, the mythic black panther, may have been solved by a local wildlife expert who said he and a friend sighted an anomalous black mountain lion at Point Reyes National Seashore.
“This lion was not darkish, not a brownish-tawny like some I’ve seen since, but jet black,” said John Balawejder, a longtime reader and avid hiker and wildlife watcher whose daughter, Alani, has written an academic paper about the sighting.
Hikers have reported seeing what they called black panthers at several Bay Area parks. But wildlife scientists, academics and photographers have never verified the body or hide of a black panther in California, and of the thousands of mountain lions shot with depredation permits in the past 30 years, Fish and Game has never seen a lion that was jet black.
Balawejder has seen more than 10 mountain lions (that beats my six in 25,000 trail miles), so he knows what he’s looking at. Like many landmark wildlife encounters, his episode came by complete surprise. On a spring day, he was hiking with a pal, Burke Richardson, out at Pierce Ranch, located at the north end of Point Reyes, on an adventure to see elk, wildflowers and views of the ocean and Tomales Bay.
“We came up a short rise through a grassy swale, and then, looking up, saw a large, jet-black mountain lion calmly sitting, eyes half asleep looking out at us from about 30 yards away,” Balawejder said. “My friend and I stood there, stunned. It then started to slink away from us in a large semi-circle, attempting to hide in the grass.”
With the chance that the animal was stalking them, Balawejder retreated. “We were sadly without a camera, which was not like us at all, but, oh well.”
In the Bay Area, animals resembling “black panthers” or black mountain lions have been reported by hikers at Las Trampas Regional Wilderness, Sunol Regional Wilderness, Chabot Regional Park, Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline, and the Marin Headlands. In central California, a black panther was reported near San Luis Obispo, and in Southern California, one was also reported near Lake Arrowhead. But sightings by wildlife experts are virtually zero.
The most repeated sightings of a “black panther” have been at Las Trampas near San Ramon in the East Bay hills. This is a 3,600-acre parkland near Bollinger Canyon that borders a 27,000-acre wildland managed by the East Bay Municipal Utility District.
Source: “The mysterious black panther makes a rare appearance, scout reports,” by Tom Stienstra, San Francisco Chronicle Outdoors Writer, Sunday, April 13, 2008.