Sprawled across a vast area along the western coast of India is the majestic mountain range called the Western Ghats, also known as Sahyadri. The range stretches for 990 miles along the coast, covers 62,000 square miles, and is a treasure trove of flora and fauna. The mountain range is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, its mist shrouded forests here considered one of the eight hotspots of biological diversity in the world, holding a vast portion of India’s flora and fauna, with many species found nowhere else on earth. The biodiversity is so rich here that it rivals that of the Amazon basin of South America, and there are thought to be many species waiting to be discovered in the remote terrain, with many being regularly discovered right up to the present. It seems like the perfect place for a large, undiscovered creature to be lurking, and one of these is a mysterious big cat that has long been reported by the natives and has only recently come to the attention of cryptozoologists.
The locals call it the Pogeyan Puli, or just the Pogeyan, which roughly translates to “the cat that comes and goes like the mist” or “Smokey Cat,” due to its coloration and the fact that it is so elusive that it seems to appear and disappear at will. Mostly seen in the high-altitude grasslands of Anamudi peak and in the remote Eravikulam forest, the description of the Pogeyan is usually that of a big, heavily built cat similar in size to a leopard, with a long tail, rounded ears, and a uniform darkish grey or smoke-colored coat. Locals say that it is very different from any other cats or large wildlife known to live in the area, such as a caracal, tiger, leopard, or civet, and they speak of it as a completely different animal. Reclusive, shy, and only ever fleetingly glimpsed, the mysterious Pogeyan only came to the attention of wildlife enthusiasts with a 2008 documentary on the Western Ghats called The Mountains of the Monsoon, in which wildlife photographer and filmmaker Sandesh Kadur documents much of the wildlife in the mountains here, including new never-before-seen species, and mentions his own encounter with the mysterious Pogeyan.
According to Kadur, a few years before making the documentary he had been at the grasslands of Anamudi peak along with some local tribespeople when they saw a large, grey cat walk across the grassland in broad daylight. Kadur, who is intimately familiar with the wildlife of the Western Ghats, had never before seen anything quite like it, and when he asked his companions what it was they told him it was the Pogeyan. He was so entranced and so afraid of scaring it off, that at the time he merely watched it and did not take a photograph, something he would regret. He would then go about using camera traps with heat-sensitive cameras and baited with chirping models of a black-capped chickadee, but these yielded no results. When the documentary was released, it put the Pogeyan into the public consciousness and other reports would come forth as well.
Indian Journalist Jananaki Lenin uncovered several other reports of the Pogeyan and wrote of them in an article in The Hindu. One of these was Santosh Mani, a tea estate manager in Munnar, who claimed to have seen the Pogeyan twice over a five-year period. Mani claimed that on both occasions the cat was crossing the road from one tea field to another and that he had gotten a good look at it, describing it as “a cat almost as big as a leopard with a long tail but it had no spots.” Another witness was James Zacharia, a Kerala Forest Department official, who had been climbing up a slope in Eravikulam forest and looked up to find himself face to face with the cat lying on a rocky ledge looking down right at him. The cat seems to have been just as startled as he was, because it then vanished into the wilderness. Zacharia is a particularly reliable witness, as not only is he a forest official who is an expert on the wildlife of the area, but he saw it at very close range and insists it was not any big cat known to live in the area. He subsequently tried to urge forest officials to launch an expedition to investigate the cat, but no action was ultimately taken, although they are open to the possibility that there is a new species of big cat out there. One forest official has said of this:
There are unexplored flora and fauna in the Marayur forest landscape which stretches from an altitude of 200-metre MSL (mean sea level) to 2,694-metre MSL. The 22-km stretch hosts the most diverse flora and fauna. Just because Pogeyan has not been photographed, once cannot conclude that the animal does not exist.
There has been a lot of speculation on what the Pogeyan could be, including a misidentified Caracal wild cat or civet, an anomalously colored leopard or tiger, or even an out of place Asian lion. However, there have been very reliable and knowledgeable witnesses who discount these explanations and are adamant that it is something new. What are we dealing with here? What sort of mysterious big cat is roaming these wilds? At the moment it remains unclear, and we are left to wonder.