Mysterious big cat seen in Phoenix Mountains Preserve

It’s not a jaguar, mountain lion, bobcat or house cat, according to the Jim DeVos with the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

PHOENIX — Something is prowling through the mountains of Phoenix, and the experts aren’t sure what it is.

But they are sure what it’s not.

“I can tell you, from the suite of felids — of cats — in Arizona, it’s nothing that I recognize as a native species to Arizona,” said Jim DeVos, assistant director with the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD).

Arizona is no stranger to big cats. Mountain lions (also called cougars, pumas, and about 40 other names) live in most of the state’s arid, rocky habitats and sometimes wander into nearby neighborhoods. Jaguars are occasionally spotted in southern Arizona and can range as far north as the Grand Canyon.

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However, video of the cat, posted by YouTube user Jen Fields, shows something very different than the usual suspects.

“We have ocelots, which are spotted. Jaguars, spotted. Mountain lions that are one color,” DeVos explained. “It’s not a bobcat, for sure. So it’s not a native species. Where it came from would be anybody’s guess.”

The video shows that the animal has dark black fur that stands out from the rocks around it: a distinct contrast to the typical pelts of native cats.

Social media users suggested that it may be a mountain lion or jaguar with melanism: a genetic trait that makes an animal’s fur appear much darker than the usual colors. However, to date there has never been a confirmed case of a black mountain lion, according to the Mountain Lion Foundation.

DeVos has a different idea. He thinks it’s an exotic animal that escaped captivity.

“My guess is that it’s probably something that was bought at a wildlife auction. Could be from Africa or South America. It’s nothing I’m familiar with, but it’s not a house cat.”

Exotic and invasive though it may be, DeVos doesn’t think the department will go after it unless it starts causing problems for people.

“Until we see some type of unacceptable behavior […] a close encounter with a human, an aggressive encounter with a human, then it’s out there and the chances of us being able to go out and find that particular animal again — unless it’s constantly getting into trouble — is very, very slim.”

So for now, the mystery cat is here to say. AZGFD will be looking for more reports of sightings and encounters. All big cat encounters, attacks, or sightings in urban areas should be reported to AZGFD dispatch at 623-236-7201.

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