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Words, Dec. 25



Maybe it was a Wampus Cat:

A report of a “black panther” prowling near Conway was met with skepticism by a spokesman for the state Game and Fish Commission:

“Stephens said ‘There's no such thing' as black panthers. Panthers, he said, are taupe and definitely do not live in Arkansas. He said someone might have released a captive mountain lion, but such cats aren't typically black.”

No black panther? Then what is the large ebony feline we see in zoos, and roughhousing with Johnny Weismuller in old Tarzan movies? Catologists say that creature is probably a leopard, and leopards aren't exactly the same thing as panthers, though both have big teeth. For one thing, leopards, both spotted and black, are found in Africa and Asia. Panther is only one form of address for a Western Hemisphere big cat, which is also called mountain lion, cougar and puma, and which, according to G and F, doesn't domicile in Arkansas under any of those names. Under all its names, its color is, according to the G and F spokesman, taupe. While that may be true, I wouldn't call a panther “taupe” to its face. Taupe is sissy-sounding, hardly better than mauve. And you certainly don't want to provoke a panther. They can be pretty unpleasant. Ogden Nash wrote “If called by a panther, don't anther.”

In the '60s and '70s, a militant African-American group called themselves the Black Panthers, and those Panthers too were capable of unpleasantness. But they haven't been heard from in ages, and they were mostly a big-city group anyway. It's not likely an aged member — a Gray Panther? — would be hanging out in Conway.

(That there was once a competing radical group called the Taupe Panthers, whose members chanted “We're here, we're taupe! Call us black and we'll mope!” is totally unconfirmed, and some authorities call the story “really ridiculous.”)

Just as I thought we were bringing the discussion to a somewhat satisfactory close, the Concise Columbia Encyclopedia dropped a bombshell. “Black leopards, a color variant, are called panthers,” it said. So there are black panthers, evidently, though probably not in Faulkner County. 

The pink-panther question is for another time. 


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