Tetrapod Zoology

The Pogeyan, a new mystery cat

i-f297c9209f2443eb16c2543c94953bad-BBC_pogeyan_drawing_whole_17-1-2009.jpg

I’ve pretty much given up on TV. I occasionally watch a few things (The IT Crowd, Doctor Who, QI, Never Mind the Buzzcocks), but mostly it’s all shit and I’d be very happy to not have a TV at all. Once in a blue moon, however, there is something really good. On Friday evening (Jan 16th), BBC 2 screened ‘The Mountains of the Monsoon’ as part of its The Natural World series. This featured wildlife photographer and environmentalist Sandesh Kadur as he travelled about the Western Ghats in quest of wildlife.

The Western Ghats evidently has some awesome wildlife. There are dholes, tigers, leopards, elephants, sambar, gaur, jungle cats, leopard cats, lion-tailed macaques, scimitar-babblers, green pigeons, woodshrikes, eagle owls, fish owls, great hornbills, and hundreds of frogs, lizards and snakes. Several frogs that Sandesh has photographed are new, as-yet-undescribed species, and a shieldtail snake that Sandesh caught and handled was also suggested to be new.

i-52389eca779ccc3a30376b10f9632938-BBC_Sandesh_with_Nasikabatrachus.jpg

The most famous herp of the region is, I would say, the bizarre, fat, purple frog Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis, which you’ll know well following its publication in 2003 (Biju & Bossuyt 2003) [previously discussed here on Tet Zoo]. The documentary included film of the animal, probably the first taken and certainly the first shown on TV (I think) [adjacent image, from 'The Mountains of the Monsoon', shows Sandesh holding a Nasikabatrachus. Image © BBC]. I hadn’t previously realised how large Nasikabatrachus is, nor how fat and wobbly its back is. Incidentally, the idea that Nasikabatrachus is most closely related to the sooglossids (Seychelles frogs) was mentioned during the documentary. This relationship has been recovered in most phylogenetic studies (Biju & Bossuyt 2003, Frost et al. 2006, Van der Meijden et al. 2007). However, an alternative possibility – that it’s actually more closely related to the African pig-nosed or shovel-nosed frogs (the hemisotids) – has also been suggested (Nussbaum & Wu 2007).

The pogeyan

Anyway, the documentary mostly focused on something even more novel: namely, the unresolved identity of a mysterious large cat. Sandesh saw this cat about ten years ago. His sighting occurred during broad daylight, in the high-altitude grasslands around Anamudi, the highest peak south of the Himalayas. Unfortunately the cat was not photographed or filmed. It was large, long-tailed, and had rounded ears and a uniform darkish grey colour. It does not match any known cat, and might therefore represent a new species. In an effort to film the animal, Sandesh set up a camera-trap (a chirping model of a black-capped chickadee was used as bait), and also used a heat-sensitive camera. Unfortunately neither effort yielded any images of the cat [an artist was shown sketching the cat. The head is shown below, and the whole thing at the top of the article. Both images © BBC].

i-2aa9ccbf53f17c1c3efcb8a215f4ea19-BBC_pogeyan_drawing_17-1-2009.jpg

However, Sandesh is not the only person to have seen this cat, for it’s known to the local people (it is ethnoknown, as we say). They call it the Pogeyan, the ‘cat who comes and goes with the mist’. So far as I can tell, the Pogeyan has not previously been mentioned in the extensive literature on mystery cats. It isn’t mentioned, for example, in Karl Shuker’s otherwise comprehensive Mystery Cats of the World (Shuker 1989), and doesn’t seem to be mentioned elsewhere in the cryptozoological literature.

However, while the hypothesis that it might be a new species remains viable, the possibility that the Pogeyan might be a mutant leopard has also been considered. After all, the Pogeyan seems very leopard-like in both size and shape. But has anyone ever reported a spot-less leopard? Indeed they have. The best known individuals are dark, not pale: with spots that have multiplied and coalesced, they’re what’s known as melanotic or pseudo-melanistic, and individuals have been shot both in Malabar, south-west India, and in southern Africa (Shuker 1993, Moiser 1997). Some pseudo-melanistic leopards had a uniform dark brown or black coat, but others exhibited spotting on the face, limbs and flanks. Many other weird, mutant leopards have been identified over the years, including chinchilla mutants (these have cream-coloured coats and blue eyes), erythristic mutants (these are reddish) and albinos. There have even been striped leopards and jaguar-like specimens with rosettes instead of spots (Shuker 1993). Weirdest of all are the ‘cobweb leopards': these are piebald mutants and are blackish, with white hairs scattered throughout the coat [captive cobweb leopard below, from Sarah Hartwell's excellent messybeast site].

i-7e4209d58ed952afa222ddf270d231ed-cobweb_panther_messybeast.jpg

The propensity of leopards to develop anomalous colour morphs does make it plausible that the Pogeyan may, after all, be an atypical member of this species. If it is, however, it doesn’t seem to correspond to a mutant already on record. Basically, we await further news on this animal. BBC Wildlife magazine might have included an article on Sandesh Kadur and his research, but I haven’t seen it (I tend to avoid BBC Wildlife these days). And googling ‘Pogeyan’ led me to Sandesh’s blog of the same name. So far as I can see however, he hasn’t (yet) included any discussion of the mystery cat.

Finally, you can watch ‘The Mountains of the Monsoon’ at the BBC iPlayer site (for a limited time) here. Well worth it if you have time. For previous Tet Zoo articles on exotic mystery cats see Multiple new species of large, living mammal (part IV) and Peter Hocking’s big cats: where are you now?

PS – I had my own encounter with a mysterious cat over the weekend. All will be revealed within the next few days.

Refs – –

Biju, S. D. & Bossuyt, F. 2003. New frog family from India reveals an ancient evolutionary link with the Seychelles. Nature 425, 711-714.

Frost, D. R., Grant, T., Faivovich, J., Bain, R. H., Haas, A., Haddad, C. F. B., De Sá, R. O., Channing, A., Wilkinson, M., Donnellan, S. C., Raxworthy, C. J., Campbell, J. A., Blotto, B. L., Moler, P., Drewes, R. C., Nussbaum, R. A., Lynch, J. D., Green, D. M. & Wheeler, W. C. 2006. The amphibian tree of life. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 297, 1-370.

Moiser, C. 1997. The melanotic leopards of Eastern Cape, South Africa. In Downes, J. (ed) The CFZ Yearbook 1997. CFZ (Exeter), pp. 43-50.

Nussbaum, R. A. & Wu, S.-H. 2007. Morphological assessments and phylogenetic relationships of the Seychellean frogs of the family Sooglossidae (Amphibia: Anura). Zoological Studies 46, 322-335.

Shuker, K. P. N. 1989. Mystery Cats of the World. Robert Hale, London.

Van der Meijden, A., Boistel, R., Gerlach, J., Ohler, A., Vences, M. & Meyer, A. 2007. Molecular phylogenetic evidence for paraphyly of the genus Sooglossus, with the description of a new genus of Seychellean frogs. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 91, 347-359.

Comments

  1. #1 Dave Godfrey
    January 19, 2009

    It was fascinating, and its always nice to see unusual amphibians. Charismatic mammals attract all the attention. :(

    The Natural World has been very good this series- last weeks looked at the history of cuckoo research, and before that it was a chap who swims with Great White Sharks. (Rather him than me I think).

    I find I don’t tend to watch things when they’re first on, and use BBC’s iPlayer rather a lot- they’re showing some of the old Wildlife on One programmes, like the classic one about the Easter Island crabs.

  2. #2 barndad
    January 19, 2009

    couple of things. If that is an accurate drawing I would have to say it looks much more lion-like than leopard-like. If we’re going to discuss all possibilities then a relict, isolated population of asian lion is not completely out of the question, given that we know they had an indian-wide distribution a couple of hundred years ago. Another possibility might be a colour-morph of the snow leopard. Some kind of rosette-less mutation that produced an all grey Ounce?

  3. #3 Dartian
    January 19, 2009

    a chirping model of a black-capped chickadee was used as bait

    A small bird? I’m not suggesting that he should have used a live tethered goat as bait (Jim Corbett-style), but isn’t a chickadee a bit too humble a lure for a large pantherine cat?

    As for the existence of this mystery cat itself, my gut reaction is that aberrant leopard is the most plausible explanation. I find it hard to believe that the ‘pogeyan’ could coexist with the leopard, which I presume occurs – or has until recently occurred – in the very same area and habitat. These cats seem too similar in size and shape to coexist happily. Then again, pumas and jaguars are sympatric over large areas, so who knows?

    it doesn’t seem to correspond to a mutant already on record.

    But there has to be a first time for everything, hasn’t it? Were there any (reliable) reports of white lions, from anywhere in the world, before the Timbavati lions were discovered?

  4. #4 Dave Hughes
    January 19, 2009

    Yes, odd colour morph of leopard must be the most plausible explanation. Relict lion population? Surely social, open-country cats would be completely obvious and unmissable if they occurred there. Snow leopard fails on the grounds that it’s an awful long way from the Western Ghats to the Himalayas, and the intervening territory of baking-hot plains, lowland jungles and scrub doesn’t seem like very good snow leopard habitat…unless they got from one mountain range to the other by helicopter!

  5. #5 Neil
    January 19, 2009

    I agree with you on TV. I just iplayer the few things I like now (theres nothing good on the other channels, well until Primeval Seris 3 starts in a few weeks! lol).

    Im yet to watch the two previous natural worlds, but I look forward to the latest one even more now :)

    Whats the matter with BBC wildlife then? I look forward to your big cat report :)

  6. #6 tai haku
    January 19, 2009

    A leopard morph was the firstt hing that jumped into my mind too. Dartian – I think the only way to solve this is for someone to go in completely Corbett-style and spend every night in a suitable tree with a tranquilizer gun and a tethered water buffalo.

  7. #7 Mark Lees
    January 19, 2009

    So I’m not the only one to have given up on BBC Wildlife, I had every issue ever issued except one until quite recently, but decided about five or six months agoto give up on it because I no longer found the articles as interesting or useful, certainly seemed to have dumbed down over the last few years.

    Pity really I used to enjoy it so much.

  8. #8 Darren Naish
    January 19, 2009

    Mark – sounds like my BBC Wildlife woes are similar to yours (I also have a pretty respectable collection of back issues). The last straw was when they published the infamous ‘know your British frogs and toads’ article: they featured a Green toad instead of a Common toad, and a North American wood frog – if memory serves – instead of a Common frog.

  9. #9 Jerzy
    January 19, 2009

    Cool. Anybody knows a colour photo of erythristic big cat? Must be very beautiful creature.

    BTW – A very smart honey badger
    courtesy of:
    http://mammalwatching.wordpress.com/

    A very smart honey badger.
    Posted December 29, 2008 by peoj
    Categories: Uncategorized
    Stoffle is a captive Honey badger in South-Africa’s Moholoholo Rehabilitation centre that shows incredible intelligence in getting out of his enclosure. He started by climbing trees and lets bending tree branches drop him outside (Keepers removed the trees), then he puts his feeding can vertically to climb out (Keepers changed it), he collects stones to create a pile for climbing out (Keepers removed the stones), he builds a pile of earth for climbing out (Keepers dig a trench), he puts a log verticaly to climb out (Keepers removed all the logs), he steals a shovel from a keeper to use for climbing out again (Keeper throws the shovel out of the enclosure), finally he pulls the keepers leg to the stone wall and uses the keeper to climb out, if the keeper does not co-operate he gets bitten).

    See a clip at

    http://winkkk.com/VdOUC0OJj3-YOIyT/cLiP.Stoffel.Escapes,Africa.
    Animal.Badger.Moholoholo.
    Rehab.Rehabilitation.South.Stoffel.html
    Jeroen Verhoeff http://www.jeroenverhoeff.com

  10. #10 Jerzy
    January 19, 2009

    Perhaps black panther, like any animal, finally gets elderly and graying. Then it becomes “cobweb leopard”.

    Panthers on both pictures don’t look very athletic, do they? Especially the second one looks rather bald.

  11. #11 Darren Naish
    January 19, 2009

    Jerzy wrote…

    Cool. Anybody knows a colour photo of erythristic big cat? Must be very beautiful creature.

    Yes, go here. On ‘cobweb leopard’, if the piebaldism they exhibit is the same as that seen in domestic cats, then white patches will become larger as the animal ages and eventually start to coalesce. In old age, the whole animal might become white.

  12. #12 Dartian
    January 19, 2009

    By the way Darren, how is ‘pogeyan’ pronounced?

  13. #13 Lilian Nattel
    January 19, 2009

    I like the name: cat that comes and goes in the mist. Waiting to hear about your mystery cat adventure…

  14. #14 Messybeast
    January 19, 2009

    Cats (big cats or domestic) do not become appreciably grey on their bodies with age – even very elderly cats don’t have enough white hairs for them to appear grey at a distance. They are also less prone to localised greying (e.g. muzzles) than dogs.

    The 2nd of the cobweb panther images is a young animal, possibly a descendent of the original cobweb panther (it isn’t balding, that is the effect of lighting on the very sleek fur) The condition in the leopards appears to be vitiligo – this condition is unusual in felids and only a few cases have been recorded. A mutation recently noted in domestic cats is “tweed” which causes a salt-and-pepper effect of fairly evenly mixed black and white hairs – there’s a similar effect in the speckled cat at http://www.messybeast.com/indefinable-colours.htm. It is possible there is an equivalent mutation in big cats.

    There have been previous reports of an ashy-grey leopard in India, though that report indicated darker grey markings. Other mutations that could cause grey animals are maltesing (the “blue” mutation) which affects eumelanin granules, the melanin inhibitor gene (“silver” or “chinchilla” mutation). Chinchilla leopards have been noted and the markings could be diffuse enough to not be apparent at a distance, much as shaded silver or chinchilla cats appear pale grey.

  15. #15 Jerzy
    January 19, 2009

    Thanks!

  16. #16 Messybeast
    January 19, 2009

    For those who haven’t seen the TV show, pogeyan is pronounced
    poggy-on :)

  17. #17 Badger3k
    January 19, 2009

    You cuould have mentioned that the iPlayer site only works for UK readers. Can’t get it across the pond in the US. The site does say “currently”, so maybe they are working on getting it to work (probably copyright issues or something like that).

  18. #18 Nathan Myers
    January 19, 2009

    If you want to lure a cat, mightn’t a hard-to-identify rustling noise work better than an identifiable bird call?

  19. #19 Raymond Minton
    January 19, 2009

    If it is a mutation of an ordinary leopard,in some ways the Pogeyan might be comparable to the “King Cheetah”, considered by some Cryptozoologists to be a seperate species, but actually thought to be a variant on the normal spotted condition (caused, perhaps, when plains-dwelling Cheetahs were forced into more wooded country.) I will await further details with interest!

  20. #20 Rajita
    January 19, 2009

    Wish i could see that docu. I used to live close to the western ghats and made many a trip into them — mainly to study cidadelloids rather than tetrapods. But the diversity of tetrapods is rather amazing indeed. Of the frogs there was a minute one that we had observed during our treks to be novel. We never could rule out the possibility that it was a not a diminutive specimen of the known Nyctibatrachus species. But an year or two ago it was named N.minimus a novel species by Biju et al ! I am very doubtful if the Indian Nyctibatrachus clade is monophyletic. Several new species were named in the last 3-4 years.

  21. #21 Sandesh Kadur
    January 19, 2009

    Very interesting thread of comments, passed along to me by a friend… Going through taxidermy records at the VanIngens which was a big part of the film but never made it in, we found a record of a semi-albino leopard, which could in a way fit the description of a pogeyan, but not quite…
    As for the small bird, well… hehe, the shola grasslands have very little in terms of prey species, and anything to get the attention of something would be good… and those were desperate measures :)

    Cheers!
    Sandesh

  22. #22 Dartian
    January 20, 2009

    Hi Messybeast. Thanks for the pronounciation guide.

    Cats (big cats or domestic) do not become appreciably grey on their bodies with age – even very elderly cats don’t have enough white hairs for them to appear grey at a distance. They are also less prone to localised greying (e.g. muzzles) than dogs.

    Hmm. In which other non-human mammals does hair/fur typically turn grey at advanced age, anyway? I know that very old chimpanzees may have grey hair on their heads (although usually not quite to the same extent as humans). But are there other examples?

  23. #23 Dr. Nick
    January 20, 2009

    When you mentioned the Pogeyan’s “uniform darkish grey colour”, I immediately thought of a melanistic leopard with a “blue” or dilution mutation. I see from Messybeast’s site that dilution genes have not been confirmed in leopards but do exist in tigers.

  24. #24 Alan Kellogg
    January 20, 2009

    From the picture my sense is, lion. It does have a lion look to it. A relict asiatic lion population.

    Going back to one of Darren’s older posts, it might be from a relict jaguar population. Jaguars did once have an old world presence after all. All that aside, another patherine cat species would be nice. To go along with the recent discoveries made in South America.

  25. #25 Dave Hughes
    January 20, 2009

    “From the picture my sense is, lion. It does have a lion look to it. A relict asiatic lion population”

    A pencil sketch made 10 (?) years after the sighting – and not by the person who actually saw the cat. Unwise to place too much reliance on that. My money would still be on unusual leopard colour morph.

  26. #26 MarkW
    January 20, 2009

    I’m glad you blogged on this; my first thought whien the show came on was “I wonder if Darren Naish is watching”…

  27. #27 Rafe
    January 20, 2009

    I agree that leopard colour morph seems most likely. I think lion is unlikely lions are very conspicuous and loud cats.
    What about a relict Puma population fits the description well fits the elusivity of the cat well and like Jaguars pumas once lived in the old world as well. That would be interesting.

  28. #28 Rosel
    January 22, 2009

    Ooh, I’ve just been on holiday in the Western Ghats, didn’t see a Pogeyan though. The best thing I saw was a mongoose.

    Sounds like an intruiging beast.

  29. #29 Julia
    January 23, 2009

    I really enjoyed the programme if only for the stunningly beautiful photography and scenery… and the wildlife! Want to visit the Western Ghats now. All of the Natural Worlds so far have been really, really good.

  30. #30 Arunachalam Kumar
    June 22, 2009

    That quite a few locals allude to the ‘mystery cat’ (or should it read ‘mist’ery cat?) lends credence to the fact that possibly there is something here worth a follow up here. Yet another enduring mystery is the ocassional sighting of the dwarf (pygmy) elephant in the western ghats (Kalyane / Kalyani) My own inference is as it appears (at least from the sketch) more like a lioness (many were let free when government laws became strngent demanding on those using them as circus animals).

    As for one of the comments on the pogeyan possibly being a variant or connected to the Snow Leopard – nothing can be excluded. After all, the Himalayan Ibex has its counterpart, the Nilgiri Tahr in the Western Ghats southern end, as does the Himalayan Laughing Thrush which has its cousin the Nilgiri Laughing Thrush. So too thrives the species of rhododendron the bird favors.

    It may be relevant to recall the Satpura Hypotheses (Horo Hypotheses) which dwells on an ancient continuity and contiguious link of the Himalayan range chain to the Western Ghats. This hypothesis is widely accepted by geologists as it is the only one that can rationally explain the presence of the many species of Himalayan river fish being also found in the fresh waters of rivulets and streams that abound in the southern tail of the Ghats.

  31. #31 Jyothi
    February 17, 2011

    I watched this show last night and loved it. Am a nature lover and BBC shows are incredible. And living in India means I can go to Kabini – hopefully soon. The one thing I found ridiculous in the show was using that fake little chickadee as bait! Sad.

  32. #32 John P.
    April 25, 2011

    Thanks for an intelligent post on cryptozoology! Those can be hard to find sometimes. I just watched this show, and I too had never heard of this “mystery cat,” and, like you, I have read extensively on unknown animals.

    What’s your take on Mokele Mbembe? Any real possibility of a surviving sauropod?

  33. #33 Honey Badger
    June 23, 2011

    I love this show too but can’t seem to find it here in the states. Does anyone know if it’s shown here in the United States? I would love to see it again.

    This is a very interesting post. I’ve never heard of the mystery panther before and would love to find out more about it.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.