Cryptozoology, BioForteana, Zoological Oddities, Unusual Natural History

BioFortean Review, (May 2008, No. 18)

The Carraguar, or Night-Tiger, of Colima, Mexico

Chad Arment

There are quite a few South and Central American ethnoknown felines in the cryptozoological literature categorized as "black panthers." Some are probably based on melanistic jaguars, or smaller species, while others have another (real or not) basis. The following ethnoknown comes from Mexico, and might be the first black mystery feline from that country. A glance through Newton's and Eberhart's respective encyclopedias and Shuker's classic Mystery Cats of the World notes "black panther"-like cryptids from further south and further north, but nothing from Mexico. This account comes from Colima, along the central west Mexican coast (Oswald 1880):

The backwoodsmen of Southern Colima believe in the existence of an animal which, according to their accounts, must be a large, black-haired feline, of extraordinary strength and ferocity and of strictly nocturnal habits. The renegrón—blackamoor (carraguar, or night-tiger, the Indians call him)—has broken into adobe cabins and torn their inmates into pieces before a puma could kill a cow; and neither a bear nor a jaguar would follow a fisherman and capsize his boat in the middle of the stream, which feat is ascribed to a renegrón of the lower Balsas. In warm nights the rancheros of the Colima backwoods have often heard a peculiar howl which they could not mistake for that of any known beast of prey, and seen footprints in the river-sand which prove that the jungles harbor a brute whose size far exceeds that of the puma. They have found the mangled carcass of the hormiguero, or large ant-bear, an animal which from its mastership in the use of its long claws is never molested even by the jaguar. The jaguar also visits the tierras frias, the summit regions of the Sierra Madre, while the voice of the night-tiger is only heard in the river jungles.

I was told that only a year ago the appearance of a carraguar in the Indian wigwams on the Rio Piñas created a perfect were-wolf panic; and the description of the brute, which was then seen and heard by a number of persons at the same time, though differing in details, agrees in the above-named essentials with the accounts of other forest tribes. But the renegrón sensations are by no means confined to the Indian settlements, and all the farmers of the Balsas Valley remember the tragedy of the Cazador Guëro (the "white hunter"), a sturdy ranchero of Portuguese descent, who had different rencontres with the murderous night-walker, and at last sealed the truth of his accounts with his life.

Juan Rivéra was a cattle-herder and trapper of the Val de Mascalo, near San Nicolas, and proprietor of a clumsy but very efficient old trabucco, or Portuguese army-musket, which had freed the valley from so many wolves and panthers that he was generally known as El Cazador, the champion hunter of the Rio Mascalo. Among his trophies was a large shred of black fur torn by his hounds from the hide of a renegrón, which their master had crippled by a shot through the haunches, but which nevertheless effected its escape after disabling two of its would-be captors; and more than once had he seen the sable form of a "night-tiger" when he visited his beaver-traps in the morning twilight. But since the inundation of the Balsas bottoms, in 1869, his ranche had been more frequently harried by other enemies, and when he missed a fine white milch-cow he ascribed the loss to a puma that had carried off one of his goats a month before. The carcass of the cow, minus the entrails and one of the hind-quarters, was found near a salt-lick in the river jungles, and the Cazador resolved to watch the next night and pay the butcher in heavy currency. He loaded his trabucco with two handsful of chopped lead, and started at sundown for the salt-lick, accompanied by his son Miguel, a fearless lad of fifteen or sixteen, who had lately been presented with a shot-gun by the Cazador's father-in-law, and wanted to prove himself worthy of the gift.

They watched behind an ambuscade of brushwood till the moon rose above the ridge of the Sierra de Mascalo, when Miguel heard a low rustling in the neighboring thicket and the click of the trabucco of his father, who motioned for him to cock his own piece and keep very quiet. After waiting in dead silence for ten or twelve minutes, during which the rustle was heard at intervals, but without coming any nearer, his father whispered to him to stay in the hiding-place and keep a sharp lookout, while he went to reconnoitre the jungle. He slipped away, trabucco in hand, and Miguel waited nearly a quarter of an hour, when he thought he saw a dark form creep upon the white carcass, which began to shake and roll in a way that satisfied him that the long-expected guest had commenced his supper. Bundles of brushwood had been deposited along the ground between the bait and the ambuscade, and Miguel could creep near enough to distinguish the whole outline of the cow-killer, and thought he recognized the broad head and long tail of a puma. His father had warned him not to fire at anything larger than a wolf, for his piece was only loaded with buckshot; but the brute presented a fair broadside,—the left side, too,—not a pellet could miss, and no such opportunity might ever occur again. Miguel raised his shot-gun, and, resting it in the fork of a bush which completely hid him, covered the ribs of the supposed puma a little back of the left shoulder, and pulled the trigger.

He remembers that he dropped his piece and ran off, screaming for help, with the tiger at his heels, and that he was awakened from a stunning fall by the crunching of his shoulder-bones and a fierce tugging at his shawl, as if the murderer was trying to get at his throat. But in that moment he heard his father's trabucco go off like a thunder-clap close to his ears, and staggered to his feet. The brute had recoiled, and in the next instant received a blow por tumbar un toro (that would have felled a bull), for it splintered the butt of the heavy musket like a walking-stick. He saw his father swing up the gun-barrel for a second stroke, but before it descended the brute had made a spring at his legs, and in the next second had him pros­trate on the ground.

"Corre, muchacho! por tu vida! por tu vida!" yelled the hunter between his screams of agony,— "Run, my boy, for your life! It's a renegrón!"

Miguel stood stupefied for a minute, and even the death-shriek of his father brought him only half to his senses, for he dashed into the woods at random, and arrived at midnight, not at his mother's ranche, but at an Indian wig­wam on the river-shore, where a former vaquero of his father's bandaged his shoulder, and carried him home on a mule the next morning. The boy's excitement and his frightful wounds attested the truth of his statements, and before night the battle-ground was visited by a large party of armed rancheros. The corpse of the hunter had disappeared, but they found his hat and shreds of his clothes, and the two guns. On a spot where the sods were torn up by the rough-and-tumble fight, and on the butt of the broken musket, they discovered tufts of coarse black hair, which could not have belonged either to a jaguar or a cuguar, as the Indians call the yellowish-gray puma or Mexican lion.

I have only seen one other reference to this mystery feline, excerpted here from a generic newspaper article on black jaguars, and it may be based on the above account (Anonymous 1893):

 

Black panthers are found in nearly all large zoological gardens, but the Thiergarten of Hamburg boasts of possessing the only captive black jaguar in the world. It is also claimed by the Brazilians that the skins brought in from the provinces vary greatly in colors and spots, but not once in ten years is a hunter heard from who has encountered a jet black jaguar.

Since the range of this animal includes to the south all Central and South America, except the cooler districts of Patagonia, and to the north, part of Texas and all of Mexico, it might easily be confounded with the fabulous black karaguar, reported to have been seen in parts of Mexico. The Mexicans tell strange stories of a powerful black beast which they name a night tiger and which they credit with marvelous strength, more to be feared than jaguars and pumas.

These tales being rather mythical and differing greatly in descriptive details, it will be necessary to catch one of these betes noires or to procure skin and skeleton, in order to have unexaggerated facts.

 

This news article is correct, in that a specimen is necessary for positive identification, but it's unlikely one will be found if nobody looks for it. If you're in Colima, this would be an interesting subject for investigation. (And keep an eye out for Ivan T. Sanderson's "ruffed cat," as he noted seeing the pelt of one in a Colima market...)

 

References:

  • Anonymous. 1893. Black Panthers. Monroe, Wisconsin, Evening Times (December 22).
  • Oswald, Felix L. 1880. Summerland Sketches, or Rambles in the Backwoods of Mexico and Central America. Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott & Co.
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