Cougars have re-established themselves in Ontario, which means that cougars are recolonizing the Eastern parts of North America using the same path through the Great Lakes region that Western coyotes used decades before. Western coyotes crossed with the few remaining wolves in the region became the modern Eastern coyote.
The evidence for cougars in Ontario comes from this recent paper by Rick Rosatte that was based upon camera trap images. Cougars are in Ontario.
However, the camera traps also caught images of a black cat, which Rosate claims are jaguars or some exotic species. His reasoning behind calling these animals exotic is that no black cougar has been seen in North America.
The image above was captured near the city of Guelph. Guelph is a mid-sized city, roughly halfway between Michigan and New York State in that part of Southern Ontario that bridges the two states.
No scale is given in the photograph to give us any idea of the size of the cat. I don’t know how we know this animal is large. It could be a black domestic cat. One cannot even get a good look at the ears of the cat, which do appear to be rounded, but that rounded shape could just be how the cat is holding its ears in the photo.
But if the animal is the size of a cougar, then it is much more likely that it is a black cougar than some exotic species.
Because jaguars don’t live in Canada. Their range in the United States is horribly truncated. One wanders up into Arizona or New Mexico every couple of years, but they once ranged up to the Grand Canyon and as far east as western Louisiana. Incidentally, those places are nowhere near Canada.
Further, no black jaguar has been spotted in North America– ever. All North American jaguars, which live in Mexico and Central America, are spotted.
They are not well-adapted to living in frigid climates. Although they were wide-ranging in North America during the Pleistocene, modern jaguars have never been found in places where the winters are as harsh as they are in Ontario.
Now, someone will say “What about a leopard? Don’t leopards live in the Russian Far East, Manchuria, and North Korea?” They do, but that’s only one subspecies. The Amur leopard is a specialized subspecies of leopard that has evolved to live in very cold conditions, and there are leopards in Central Asia that have adapted to colder climates.
All of these leopards are from subspecies in which only spotted individuals exist.
Black leopards are found only in certain tropical subspecies. Leopards on the southern end of the Malay Peninsula are always black. A huge percentage of the isolated leopards in Java are black, too. And most captive black leopards derive from these southeast Asian populations. There are some black leopards in Africa, especially in the Kenyan Highlands, which are about the only temperate place where black leopards can be found.
It is theoretically possible for a black leopard to survive in the marine temperate climate of Great Britain, but it is a stretch to think that leopard from tropical population could survive in Southern Ontario.
The greatest likelihood is that this cat is a domestic cat, but the second greatest likelihood is that it is a black cougar, the first of its kind documented on this continent. There have always been reports of black cougars. The skin of one was described in 1960. The cat was killed in Colorado, but the skin has been lost to time. A black cougar was supposedly killed in Costa Rica, which is also in North America, but it may have been a misidentified jaguarundi, which are the cougar’s closest relatives but are much smaller.
I think there is almost no chance of this animal being a jaguar or a leopard.
And until someone gives me some scale for this image, the best assumption is that it is a domestic cat.
And if it’s big, it’s very likely a black cougar, a phase that hasn’t been fully documented in North America before.
I think Rosatte’s assumptions are way off here. A cougar can survive in Ontario. A tropical leopard or a South American jaguar would have a very hard time surviving there. The only black leopards that are found in temperate areas are not the primary source for captive black leopards, and no black jaguar has been confirmed outside of South America.
So if this is a big cat, it has to be a black cougar, regardless of whether one has been spotted in North America before or not.
But my money is on it being a domestic cat.