Mystery big cat skulls from the Peruvian Amazon not so mysterious anymore
by Darren Naish
Long-time Tet Zoo readers with exceptionally good memories might recall the ver 2 article – published way back in June 2007 – in which I asked that most vexing of questions: “Peter Hocking’s big cats: where are you now?”. As you’ll know if you recall that article, or if you know a reasonable amount about South American mammalogy or cryptozoology, back in 1996, Peruvian ornithologist Peter Hocking announced the procurement of two skulls belonging to pantherine cats, suggested by him to represent two of the ‘mystery’ cats said by local people to inhabit the forested highlands of Peru’s Pasco Province.
Hocking – perhaps best known in the world of zoology for the several bird species he has to his name – has long been collecting anecdotes from indigenous Peruvians about mystery animals: animals that don’t seem to match those known to scientists and which might represent undiscovered taxa (Hocking 1992, 1996, Greenwell 1994). Among these is the so-called ‘striped tiger’, a reddish, jaguar-sized cat marked with white, unbranched stripes. Its paradoxical name results from the fact that ‘el tigre’ is the name used across much of South America for Panthera onca, the Jaguar. In other words, it’s meant to be a ‘Striped jaguar’. We opted to use the name ‘Peruvian tiger’ for this alleged animal.
Then there’s a second, Jaguar-like big cat, said to have solid black irregular spots, not rosettes like a Jaguar. We use the term ‘Anomalous jaguar’ for this animal. The adjacent illustration by Peter Visccher – produced to accompany an article by the late cryptozoologist Richard Greenwell – shows the Peruvian tiger and Anomalous jaguar together with a few other Peruvian mystery animals reported by Hocking (Greenwell 1994), though the illustration errs in giving the ‘Peruvian tiger’ dark stripes rather than white ones. The big black cat included in the scene is the ‘Yana puma’, an animal that might not be a cat after all, but a local name for the Spectacled bear Tremarctos ornatus.
Old news now is that Hocking managed to get hold of skulls said to belong to both the ‘Peruvian tiger’ and ‘Anomalous jaguar’. Preliminary observations on the anatomy and proportions of these skulls indicated that both were different from those of Jaguars…
(read more: Tetrapod Zoology - Scientific American)
images: Gustavo Sanchez, Greenwell (1994), and Peter Hocking