The onza was Mexico’s most famous mystery feline, reported for centuries in the remote Sierra Madre Occidental Mountain range in the northwestern part of the country. To the Aztecs the onza (or, as they called it, cuitlamiztli) was an animal distinct from the two other large cats, the puma and the jaguar, with which they shared an environment. After the Spanish conquerors arrived, they called on the emperor Montezuma,who showed them his great zoo. In it, Bernal Diaz del Castillo observed, were “tigers [jaguars] and lions [pumas] of two kinds, one of which resembled the wolf.” The later Spanish settlers of northwestern Mexico noted the presence in the wild of a wolflike cat — with long ears, a long, narrow body, and long, thin legs — and gave it the name onza, from the Latin uncia, referring to the cheetah of Asia and Africa. They also remarked on its fierceness.

According to Father Johann Jakob Baegert, who worked with the Guaricura Indians in Baja California in the mid-eighteenth century, “One onza dared to invade my neighbor’s mission while I was visiting, and attacked a 14-year-old boy in broad daylight and practically in full view of all the people; and a few years ago another killed the strongest and most respected soldier” in the area.

Front cover of Robert Marshall’s The Onza (1961)
Yet outside its range the onza was virtually unknown. The occasional published references to it made no impression, and zoologists continued to assume that only pumas and jaguars lived there. No serious scientific field expeditions into the rugged terrain, inaccessible in many places even to horses, were ever mounted to investigate the question. According to eyewitnesses Onza's physical description very similar to a puma but thinner with weight around 60–70 pounds. It has tawnycolored fur, with gray on the legs and shoulders. Also said to have faint stripes on the shoulders and a long, dark stripe down the back. Ears longer than a puma’s. Spots or stripes on the inside of the legs, longer legs than a puma’s.

Then in the 1930s two experienced mountain hunting guides, Dale and Clell Lee, were working in the mountains of Sonora when they heard for the first time of the onza. In time they moved their operation 500 miles to the south, to Sinaloa, where they took Indiana banker Joseph H. Shirk to hunt jaguars on the wildlife-rich La Silla Mountain. There they treed and killed a strange cat that they immediately concluded was something other than a puma. In fact, it looked exactly like the onzas that locals said lived in the region.After measuring and photographing it, they butchered the animal. Shirk kept the skull and skin. Their present whereabouts are unknown.

Certain they had found something of importance, the Lees described the animals to American zoologists. They were stunned when both the scientists and the newspapers ridiculed their story. Conservative and cautious by nature, unused to having their word questioned, the brothers withdrew and ceased discussing the experience — until the 1950s, when an Arizona man, Robert Marshall, befriended Dale Lee and sympathetically recorded his testimony.Marshall even went down to Mexico to conduct further investigations, the results of which he recounted in a 1961 book, The Onza, which, aside from a single (unfavorable) review in a scientific journal, attracted no attention whatever.

At 10:30 on the evening of January 1, 1986, two deer hunters in the San Ignacio District of Sinaloa shot and killed a large cat. It clearly was not a jaguar, and they had no idea what it was. They alerted Manuel Vega, who recognized the creature as an onza as soon as he saw it.Vega’s father, in fact, had once shot an onza.J. Richard Greenwell and Troy L. Best examined the animal in February and preserved the skull, leg bones, and tissue samples for further analysis. Electrophoresis and mitochondrial DNA testing on the tissue samples have shown them to be identical to North American puma samples.

Many Mexican hunters believe it is a jaguar x puma hybrid, although the animal has few jaguarlike characteristics. However, there is no evidence that such hybrids occur.

Mysterious Creatures: “A Guide to Cryptozoology” by George M. Eberhart;
Unexplained! “Strange Sightings, Incredible Occurences & Puzzling Physical Phenomena” by Jerome Clark

Pic Sources:
Unexplained! “Strange Sightings, Incredible Occurences & Puzzling Physical Phenomena” by Jerome Clark page 327

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