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The Eastern Cougar in North Carolina

Cougar

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Are There Still Cougars in North Carolina?

The Eastern Cougar, according to North Carolina Wildlife Profiles was extirpated throughout North Carolina by 1900. But ask witnesses in Northeast North Carolina and they will tell you the cougar is still calling the Tarheel State home. Several witnesses have reported seeing both the usual tawny cat and a black version locally referred to as black panthers. Witnesses I talked with describe the cat as big, long, swift, and as having a long tail, distinguishing it from the well known bobcat.

Black Panthers have been a part of North Carolina wildlife lore for many years. Melanism, black coloration phases, occur in other feline species, and although none have been documented in the cougar species one wonders why it is not possible? Other possibilities suggest black jaguars or leopards, which might have strayed north from Central America or escaped from private owners. In any case, the cougar in North Carolina is considered an endangered and threatened species and are protected as such.

Do Not Shoot the Non-Existent Cats

Cougars are known by several names: puma, panther, mountain lion, painter, and wildcat. Though they are officially classed as small cats the average weight of a male cougar is 150 pounds. Most are a tawny color with brown points and a white underbelly. The eastern cougar requires around a twenty-five square mile range and will adapt to almost any terrain. They are carnivorous and prey on anything from deer to groundhogs, hunting mainly from the ground.

They are solitary animals except at breeding time. Their gestation period is ninety-one days. A female usually raises a litter every two years. A litter can consist of up to six cubs but average two per litter. They stay with the mother until they are two years old. While only one per litter usually survives to become an adult, those that survive have a life expectancy of about ten years.

The North Carolina Wildlife Profiles states that if anyone has indeed seen a cougar it was likely a “pet” that was released into the wild, and what people are reporting to be black panthers are probably bears or bobcats.

It is illegal to shoot the non-existent cougar in North Carolina. In 1987 a local hunter was fined for shooting two cougars in Tyrrell County. The cougars were hanging around a rural dumpster. Authorities explained those cougars had been pets and the owner released them into the wild once they got too big to handle. In any case, cougars are protected in our state.

Cougar Sightings in Washington County

Hyde, Tyrrell, Washington and Bertie Counties in Northeast North Carolina have had a good share of cougar and black panther sightings.

Jimmy Davis, a Washington County resident, saw a black panther twice within three days in the same area. It was about 4PM in September 2011 the first time Davis saw the black cat. He was on Jerdan Thicket Road driving about 45 mph when it crossed the road in front of him. He said he slowed down, the cat stopped and looked at him, then it jumped from the shoulder of the road across a wide ditch and disappeared into the woods. He said the cat was about 4 ½ feet long with a tail almost as long. Its ears were turned down and he saw a flash of white on its face, which he said could have been glare or maybe a marking.

Davis was taking a walk after doing some gardening on a dirt road alongside the woods the second time he saw the big cat. It came out of the woods in front of him and jumped across the path and the ditch in one leap then faded into the woods.

Davis grew up in the rural area surrounding Long Ridge and Hollis Roads near Plymouth, North Carolina. He knows for a fact what he saw in September 2011 was neither a bear or a bobcat. “I know what I saw,” he said.

Sandra Lee also saw what she describes as a black panther several years ago on Hollis Rd. It was dusk and she was turning onto Hollis Road from Hwy 32, going to visit a friend. The panther walked out onto the road as she was turning.

She said, “It just walked at a relatively slow pace for some time, while I was behind him, trying to figure out what in the heck it was. I knew it was some kind of cat because it had a long tail, and moved like a cat, but it was so large!”

The cougar’s cry has sometimes been described as sounding like a woman screaming. Gail Harrison Hodges of Washington County believes she heard that scream when she was a child. Her mother had taken the children to a field on their farm to chop weeds. The sound was scary enough that her mother sent them running for cover in the car. “I can still hear that sound, unlike anything I have ever heard.”

Gail said her late husband had a sighting on a Weyerhaeuser logging road off Hollis Road near where it joins Long Ridge Road. It was at twilight. She says he was very specific about the fact that it was a black panther.

Cougar Sighting Near Pungo Lake

Claude Edward Jones, who grew up in Plymouth and now lives in Beaufort County, shares his cougar story:

“I was goose hunting on some land in Wenona. Having no luck, we decided to drive over to the Lake to view the birds. It was getting late and we knew we had to leave before dark. We were traveling down D Canal Road very slow because it was very wet and narrow. We were traveling south towards 43, when out of the brush, on the vehicle driver side, this huge black cat, not a house cat and not a bear, quickly leaped in front of us, then crossed the road, and disappeared into the trees that bordered the canal on the passenger side. I couldn't believe my eyes!”

Cougar Video

Bertie and Tyrrell County Cougar Sightings

Alfred Smith, a Washington County native says he has seen cougars in Bertie, Washington, and Tyrrell counties over the past twenty years.

“In about 1997 we were leaving Roper to go to Belhaven one evening. It was after sundown but not dark because I did not have my headlights on. It was in the earl spring. We had just turned off of Millpond Road onto the Railroad Bed. There is or was a pasture on the left-hand side of this road not far from the turnoff. A big cat came out of the pasture about 100 yards down the road. I was driving about 45 or 50 mph and slowed down. The cougar did not seem to be in any hurry crossing the road. It was about 5 feet long with a tail that was 4 or 5 feet long that stuck straight out behind it. As it disappeared into the brush on the right-hand side of the road another cat about the same size came from the pasture following the first one. This cat was solid black and was moving much faster than the first on but we were much closer to it when we saw it.”

Smith had another sighting about the same period of time, 1996 to 1998. He was deer hunting with a friend early one morning in November in Bertie County on a track of land owned by Weyerhaeuser Paper Mill. It was early morning and they were walking along a canal bank to get to their stand. A cougar jumped the 15-foot wide canal and landed in the trail about 100 feet ahead of them. He described the cat as about 5 feet long and with a tail that was four or five feet long. He said it never made a sound as it came and was gone in an instant, but he has no doubt about what they saw.

Another incident happened late one evening while Alfred Smith was coming back from playing golf in Windsor. He was driving along highway 308 just east of the San Sucie Road in Bertie County when he saw a big cat sitting beside the road.

“Just sitting there like a dog would sit. At first, I thought it was a wounded deer that had maybe been hit by a car or something.”

He slammed on breaks to stop and the cat took one leap across the shoulder of the road and the road ditch and into the woods. Smith estimated the cat jumped 30 to 40 feet with one bound from a sitting position. The cat looked to be at least 6 feet long when stretched out plus at least a five-foot tail.

Smith said, “Talking with friends who I worked with and people who drive this road regularly say the cat has been spotted several times along 308 in this area.”

A markerHollis Road, Plymouth, NC -
Hollis Rd, Plymouth, NC 27962, USA
get directions

Sighting Location of Cougar in Washington County near Plymouth, NC

Cougar Signs

While there are many reports of cougars in North Carolina, word alone is not enough to convince wildlife officials. They need “proof” to be convinced. Physical evidence or even credible photographs have yet to be produced to back up the stories. There are some signs to look for that may suggest the presence of a cougar. They are scrape marks which are left by males scraping together a pile of leaves or debris and then urinating or defecating on it to mark his territory, tracks, feces, tree scratches, and hidden food caches such as a deer carcass. If you have a camera handy photograph any sign you come across so it can be verified later. Of course, a photograph of the actual cat would help substantiate your sighting, although in this age of digital photo editing, even a picture may not be convincing enough.

Comments 31 comments

Jimmy Davis 8 weeks ago

Donna, really like these sightings, and thank you for approaching the matter with professionalism.


Antoinette 11 months ago

I know my animals pretty well. Not to mention that I am engaged to someone who is a hunter/taxidermist. There was a panther in my mother's backyard. He was huge. Gray or black in color. What distinguished it from a bobcat was the tail. It was the longest tail I've ever seen on an animal. He was eating scraps my mom threw out. I know what I saw regardless of what the "experts" say. I got a pretty good look because he stared at me with his tail stretched straight out...until I got smart and ran back in the house. It was not a bear, coyote, fox or dog. It was a very LARGE cat with a very LONG tail. It was a panther or something just like it. This sighting was in Sampson county 3 nights ago.


mike 14 months ago

Lol they are deffinantly in the east. And when I say east I mean northeast nc. I lived in colerain nc for about 5 years (ahoskie,edenton,williamston area) my parents and i were riding through an area called black rock on 2 seperate occasions and spotted what I’m assuming to be the same cougar. Both times there were people on byclcles involved. The first time there Was a kid riding and about 200 yards after we passed by him the lion ran across the road in front of us (stepdad almost ran him over). We both got out of thencar and tried to chase him just to get a look and possibly a picture, but he ran inot a field of tobbacco and disapeared. From head to tip of tail he almost took up half the road. The second time we passed two men riding and watched as he ran across behind them. I have watched documentaries on them and noticed that alot of the sightings/attacks involved someone riding a bike. Curiousity I imagine, but none the less, they are here. Also about a week ago in Goldsboro nc about 20 minutes from were I live now (wilson) someone took a photo of a cougar in a feild close to his home… Whether or not these animals are someone’s pet that was released or if they truly are not “extinct” they are deffinantly here in North Carolina.


j. carr 14 months ago

Sept. 14, 2015 I witnessed a tawny brown cougar on a railroad track in a swampy area in Plymouth, NC near the Roanoke River. I am a locomotive engineer & have seen every kind of wild animal native to this area on the tracks in my 26 year career. I got a good side view of the cat when I rounded a curve as it was standing across the track. After 2-3 seconds it took one leap & was in the forest. This was 1:45 pm on a sunny afternoon. Always heard stories of these & black panthers. I am definitely a believer now!


leslie 15 months ago

My wife and I saw one in Rutherford county nc on hwy 108 where it crosses green river between polk and rutherford co. This was approximately 23 years ago ling before cell phones with cameras but it crossed the rd and stood on bank with only one lane separating us from the cat we watched it for 7-8 minutes before driving awayand it definitely wasn't a bobcat be it panther or cougar it was all black and 7-8' long nose to tail it was one beautiful cat I figured it had followed the river from the mountains since we are situated at the foot of the mountains.


vickie Craig 15 months ago

I live in western North Carolina, In the past 20 years I have seen 5 mountain lions in this area. One chasing a herd of deer across the parkway near the haywood county line, one setting above the ferrin knob tunnel, one dead baby in haywood county hit by a car, we tried to turn around and grab the carcus but another truck stopped and beat us to it. One in macon county while at the chunky girl ruby mine and one in hurricane creek in haywood county. All of these I have seen with my own eyes, just too bad I didn't have a camera in hand. And no I am not confusing with a bobcat, a bobcat doesn't have a three foot tail.


Bob Gaddis 2 years ago

I saw one a couple of years ago on NC between Kinston and Grifton. The Wildlife folks deny that they are here, but the hunters in western Craven County, a few miles east of here, see them often.


Anthony 2 years ago

I have seen big black cats 3 different times Seen two together in Sampson county around 12 miles outside of Harrells N.C. both times going to tree stand. They were 2 foot tall.. One other time one crossed road in front of me at Black river in Sampson county from nose to tall yellow line to white line [real big]


DonnaCSmith profile image

DonnaCSmith 2 years ago from Central North Carolina Author

I removed the photo of the black panther as I found it has circulated the internet and I am no longer sure of its origin.


Mike Willis 2 years ago

I have seen a black panther twice, once on Mashoes Rd,Dare County NC,and once on hwy 264 by the airport in Engelhard. Both sightings were late at night.The Mishoes sighting was approx l8 years ago, and 264 was 3 years ago.


Panthers2013 3 years ago

Driving south on Hwy. 17 off . Saw large black cat about a mile before the Shallotte exit. My son spotted it in open grassy field and then showed it to me. Huge, couldn't believe it!


Marina7 profile image

Marina7 3 years ago from Clarksville TN

We have 2 cats so I am a cat fan. I love cougars too and you have a great article on cougars. Thank you for the article and I love it.


Alfred Smith 3 years ago

I saw 2 "cats" this morning about a mile east of Williamston on hiway 64. They were way to big to be house cats (about the size of a fox) and had long tails so I know they were not bobcats. One crossed the 4 lane road ahead of me and the other one went back from where they had come. I know the wildlife people say we do not have cougars in eastern NC but I don't know what else these cats

could have been..

40 minutes ago


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA

I live in Currituck County, and have not heard of any cougar sightings here, but I would love to see one! Thanks for an interesting article. I do hope that these beautiful animals and their habitat remain protected. Problems always arise when potentially dangerous wild animals are forced into populated areas as they lose their natural habitat.


DonnaCSmith profile image

DonnaCSmith 3 years ago from Central North Carolina Author

Ann S. thank you for sharing your encounter with the cougar.


Ann S. 3 years ago

I will never my close encounter with a tawny Carolina panther outside my home on Little Bearpen Mountain in Macon County, NC. During the early morning hours that day, I had heard what I took to be a woman moaning and screaming in the creek that is fed by a water-fall behind my house. After sunrise, I was standing on the walkway in front of my house when I was shocked to observe a cougar calmly walking up my driveway to the road, across the road into a hedge of Rhodedendruns. It glanced at me nonchalantly as it went on its way. never changing its pace.


moonlake profile image

moonlake 3 years ago from America

We go through the same thing in northern Wisconsin wildlife officials saying we're seeing big house cats. How dumb they think we all are. Enjoyed reading your hub voted up.


Randy Peterson 3 years ago

Cougers have been seen near Belhaven, North Carolina. I live near Pamlico Beach and have seen a cougar near my home and also between Belhaven NC & Washington NC.


BDB 3 years ago

I too believe there are cougars in eastern nc. Wildlife officials maintain they're not indigenous but pets that have escaped or have been set free, either way I think not acknowledging there presence is naïve.

I had a sighting on hwy 70 between new bern and kinston, it was early in the morning and I've seen bears, bobcats, deer and just about every other four legged animal and was stunned with what I saw. It was about 20 yards in front of my vehicle and moving quickly across hwy 70, it was about 5 ft in length and dark/black/grey, I was literally stunned and was only ridiculed by people I told, although most who were hunters believed me or said they don't doubt there presence in eastern nc.


Rogue 4 years ago

I was driving to work along Highway 55 approximately six miles west of New Bern in eastern NC at approximately 6:30 am in late August 2011 when a cougar crossed the road in front of my vehicle. It was approximately 40 - 50 yards ahead of my car and was moving along at a trot. It was light brown in color with the characteristic long tail. It was definitely not a bobcat, as it was too large and the shape of it's head and ears was wrong. Also, it had the previously mentioned long tail. I have no way of knowing if it was an eastern cougar, one that had migrated from the west or an escaped captive. Several of my friends who are hunters have maintained for a number of years that they occasionally spot cougars in the same general area while hunting.


Gypsy 4 years ago

I saw a cougar when I was 12 out riding with friends. In Avery County NC 3 of my family members saw two dead cougar cubs in stokes county in the last 5 years. Someone is not being up front.


Shackred profile image

Shackred 4 years ago

So beautiful! Looks like the Cougar from Patagonia Argentina, called "Puma".


ChrisCraft 4 years ago

Black panthers were spotted quite often when I grew up on the Hollis Road in Plymouth. I saw one once when horseback riding. Even though it was crossing the railroad tracks a good distance from me and not noticing me at all, I held on tight and checked the wind direction. I just knew that horse was going to ditch me! Not many believed I saw what I saw, but my grandfather lived not far from there and had also seen the panther on several occasions.


DonnaCSmith profile image

DonnaCSmith 4 years ago from Central North Carolina Author

Thank you Robert for sharing that sighting.


Robert Dempsey 4 years ago

On Monday, July 2, 2012, my wife and I were returning from a day at the outer banks. We were on hwy 64 just reaching the edge of Plymouth when, what appeared to us as, a cougar crossed the road in front of us. It looked like a juvenile about 4 times the size of a domestic cat. Its feet were a little large in proportion to its body. It was a pretty dark tan and its tail a little darker than its body. The tail looked to be about 3 feet long, and about the same as its body. We estimate its weight to be about 60 lbs.


DonnaCSmith profile image

DonnaCSmith 4 years ago from Central North Carolina Author

Thank you Seedplanter for sharing your sighting! And for the complement.


theSeedplanter 4 years ago

I can attest that we have at least one mountain lion roaming around up here in northwest Minnesota. What a beautiful form this cat has. Sleek and swift.

We saw this one cross the road near the Smokey Hills state forest, about 35 miles south of the Itasca Headwaters.

SP

Donnalee, I love your writing style.


jdove-miller 4 years ago

Sounds like too many sitings for WildLife to keep denying it. Makes more sense that they'd look for them so they can verify for themselves.


Bob McCarthy 4 years ago

Donna, I appreciate so much you sharing this uplifting, heartwarming article.


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crazyhorsesghost 4 years ago from East Coast , United States

In 1991 a 350 pound male was killed by a truck in Rutherford County North Carolina. It was killed about three miles north of the N.C./S.C. state line crossing Highway 221.

I know for a fact that there is a large population of Cougars in and around Rutherford County North Carolina and there the wild life people know and admit they are there. In the Golden Valley area of Rutherford County there have been several cattle and sheep killed by Cougars in the last few years and I have seen a Cougar in that area on several occasions. There is also a huge number of deer in that area.


Attikos profile image

Attikos 4 years ago from East Cackalacky

I've seen solid evidence of the presence of panthers along Swift Creek in Edgecombe County, and one ran deer through my camp near Doughton park one night. I don't care about convincing wildlife officials, who can remain as benighted as they like. Them painters are here.

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