Newsletter May 10th|jon_downes||05/10/04 at 18:39:35|jon_downes|xx|0||Dear Friends,

Things have been so hectic in recent weeks that I simply haven’t had the time to write the newsletter. In an ideal world this should have been sent out a week or so back, but then again nobody claimed that this was an ideal world.


As I write, Richard, Chris and Jon are in Sumatra beginning the second CFZ expedition in search of the legendary Orang-Pendek  - a powerfully built upright walking ape with a long mane of hair, and the Cigau - a feared and reputedly deadly big cat unknown to science. They will be the first westerners ever to have probed the “lost valley” in Western Sumatra’s Kerinci National Park. Even the head of Indonesia’s tiger conservation programme admitted that “We just don’t know what’s going on down there”

The CFZ received this email 5 May 2004 from Jon Hare.

“Hi there Jon
Just a quick email, mate - the computer keepS crashing!

Well, we've made it to Padang. Apart from the appalling rain everything's going well so far. All flights were on time and all travel, so far, has been OK. We've bought our parangs (mine has a naga on the handle!) and are all set for a drive to Kerinci tomorrow. We've hired a jeep and the driver says he'll drop us at Mr Supandi's house for about 40 quid, which isn't bad and it should be a _hell_ of a lot better than that godawful bus last year.

Once we get to Mr Supandi's, we'll be able to make plans to [reach] this 'lost valley'. He's been fully briefed by Debbie so we expect everything to be OK. We'll probably be in the jungle in a couple of days.

Well, this is probably the last time we'll be able to email from here until we get back from the jungle. Take care of yourself and we'll get back in touch in a couple of weeks.

Jon, Rich, Chris


In a slightly less intrepid piece of travelling, I am writing this, sitting at the computer of the CFZ Illinois representative Jessica Dardeen. I am in the United States for about twn days, following up on reports of huge black cats. The cougar, Mountain Lion or Puma (Puma concolor), has never been proved to have exhibited a black form.

This is weird because the puma is the only sizeable member of the cat family to be found in most of North America, and there have been reports of big black cats from many parts of the United States – most notably the mid west – for decades, and possibly even centuries. This morning I attended a kid’s soccer game  arranged by parents in the small town of Marshall, Illinois. There I spoke to local residents, and I found that many people knew about the `panthers, but they are like a game of Chinese Whispers. So far I haven’t found anyone who has seen them for theirselves – but everyone knew of someone who had.

So what are they?

The first thing that they cannot be is `panthers`. The panther is the black form of the leopard (Panthera pardus), and although these magnificent beasts are found across much of the world – Africa, Asia, and in historic times even parts of Europe – they are not found in North America.

We have already seen that the puma does not have a black colour morph. It is also supposedly extinct in Illinois and Indiana. The last Illinois specimen was officially killed in the late 19th Century, but they have been seen regularly ever since.

Panthers, pumas and even tigers and lions are regularly kept as pets. Today we visited the `Exotic Feline Rescue Center` in Center Point, Indiana. They told us that many species of big cat are kept – both illegally and legally – as pets in the state, and showed us unfortunate creatures that had been rescued from the most appaling conditions. After hearing some of the horror stories about big cats kept under the most horrific and inadequate circumstances it was not at all difficult to suppose that a large number of these poor creratures escape and repopulate the wild places from which they were supposedly extirpated over a century ago.

But at the moment we are in the central part of the State. The longest running accounts of `black panthers` come from the southern part of Illinois, and it is there that we must go next in search of the truth behind this gloriously enigmatic mystery.


Graham telephoned me this morning to say that Cuthbert – one of the unknown species of terrapins that were given to us a year ago by Darren Naish and his colleagues – has died. He had been increasingly unwell during the winter, but after several visits to the vet we thought that he would pull through. Sadly he didn’t. He has been consigned to the CFZ deep freeze, and we intend to try and get his remains DNA analysed to find out the truth behind his identity once and for all.


Last night I appeared on NewsTalk 1010 CFRB Toronto
It was great fun and we chatted away for hours about mystery cats, loch ness, bigfoot and the forthcoming new album by `The Who`. A wonderful time was had by all and I look forward to doing the show again.

That’s about it for this newsletter. I will be returning to the UK in the middle of next week, and Richard and the lads return on the 22nd. As always, the CFZ are grateful for any gifts of money, time, expertise or equipment that anyone feels ablew to donate. We exist without any corporate sponsorship or funding, and are therefore dependent on YOUR generosity to continue. Thank you in advance for your continued support.


Jon Downes
(Director Centre for Fortean Zoology)