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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Carolina Panther

by Charles R. Humphreys, 2006

Previously identified as "Panther" is another term for the cougarFelis concolor couguar but more recently as Puma concolor couguar, the cautious and intelligent Carolina panther, once prevalent in North Carolina, is now considered extinct in the wild by most zoologists despite consistent rumors of sightings and species resurgence. The variety historically present in North Carolina was likely the eastern puma or cougar, though the range of the Florida panther extended through most of the Southeast and certainly into parts of South Carolina. When the New World was first explored, panthers were found from coast to coast and from southern Canada to Tierra del Fuego. Thomas Harriot in 1588 recorded that the Indians sometimes hunted and ate them. On 25 Apr. 1861 the Raleigh Weekly Ad Valorem Banner reported that a panther, measuring 7 feet 4 inches long and 2.5 feet tall, had been killed at the head of the Pungo River. Carolina panthers, showing little fear of humans, lived in close proximity to people if their needs for food, water, shelter, and an escape route were met.

By the early twentieth century, extensive hunting combined with a decrease in the population of the panther's primary prey, white-tailed deer, and deforestation in its natural habitat, had made the panther very rare throughout the Southeast except in a small area of southern Florida. Reports of panthers in North Carolina continued, however, and increased when the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission implemented a program to reestablish a deer herd for hunting. Between 1937 and 1993, 121 adult panthers and 17 panther kittens were claimed to have been sighted, though reports have generally been unverifiable and attempts to lure the cats into camera range have proved fruitless.

References:

David S. Lee, "Unscrambling Rumors: The Status of the Panther Felis Concolor in North Carolina," Wildlife in North Carolina 41 (July 1977).

Leonard Lee Rue III, "American Wildcats," American Hunter (August 1991).

Stanley P. Young, The Puma: Mysterious American Cat (1964).

Additional Resources:

Cougar information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Northeast Region): http://www.fws.gov/northeast/ecougar/

North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission: https://www.ncwildlife.org/Conserving/Species.aspx

Puma concolor at the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS): http://www.itis.gov/

 

Comments

Comment: 

At 6:20 am this morning, I was stopped in the road to adjust my camera setting on my iPhone, when I glanced up, so astonished to see a pale golden cougar, long tail curled at the end, slink low & quickly cross the road in front of me, vanishing into the tall marsh grass landscape. I live on Cape Hatteras Island & this was in the National Park in Buxton. I sat a long while hoping to see some sign of it but it was gone, no tracks could I find. Obviously I didn't get a photo, it happened so quickly!

Comment: 

I wish we could post pictures.

It's in living color and it's not a bobcat. Captured at 5:45 am this morning casually walking across my driveway.

Franklin Grove area of SwainCo.

Comment: 

Good morning,
I'm a writer doing research for an assigned article on panthers in North Carolina. I already have a photo of a plaster mold of a pugmark from a cougar in Brunswick County but I have no other photos. PLEASE send me your photo by email and where and when it was taken and by whom. MUCH APPRECIATED, Robert

Comment: 

I was coming home from Kinston NC to Greenville NC last night, 20 May 2021 - about 9:30 pm, driving north on Hwy 11. I was about a mile away from the Ferrell Rd turn off and the railroad tracks where you can turn left to get on Tilghman Mill Rd. About 5 feet off the right side of the road I saw a light colored, brownish, large cat slowly picking its way and moving further to the right. It was very large and I thought immediately by the way it moved it really was a cat. The head was not really in profile, but the tail and haunch as well as the length of the body were. The tail was very visible - large and long and thick- it had a significant curl at the end. The back right side was in full view and looked very muscular and strong. I was in shock because I had never heard that we had cougars or panthers in NC. By the time it took to take this in - I had moved past it on the highway and it was no longer visible as there was no other lighting along this part of the road. It did not seem bothered by the fact that I drove past it, and continued to move in the direction I first saw it going in without any change of pace. I came home to look up cougars/panthers in NC and read that they are considered extinct.

Comment: 

I have finally found others who have seen what I saw. One July Saturday around the early to mid 1980’s my mother and I were on Hwy 117 in eastern North Carolina on our way to Wrightsville Beach. We were probably south of Burgaw but not yet to the Cape Fear River. I say that because I remember we were getting closer to the beach but had not seen any Spanish moss. We were traveling through flat farmland with both fields and woods along the roadside in the area we were in. I was driving and my mother was watching the road as well when all of a sudden a large black cat crossed Hwy 117 moving from west to east probably about 150-200 feet in front of our car. The cat was not running but rather slowly trotting. We were both shocked to have just seen this very large black cat and knew they were definitely not on the list of wild cats in our state. My mother had always been interested in wildlife(she read her Wildlife in North Carolina from cover to cover each month) and was an avid birder. I had a BS in biology/naturalist degree from Appalachian State. Even though we were both used to spotting birds and wildlife on our outings, taking notice of shapes, colors and markings; we had trouble believing what we actually saw right in front of us. As I remember the cat was about the size of a large Labrador Retriever but slimmer, with longer legs and a longer, slimmer tail. The tail curved upward as mentioned in one of the previous posts. My mother and I were almost speechless as we were both aware that this animal should not be crossing this rural highway in Eastern North Carolina. We talked about it often, up until her death 4 years ago, wondering what in the heck we really saw. I am beyond thrilled to know that others have seen this large wild cat in out state.

Comment: 

Around 1982 I was employed on Kiawah Island South Carolina and witnessed in the early morning hours crossing the golf course a large black cat approximately 4 to 5 foot long with unusual stride and long tail I have possessed dogs my whole lifetime and I am positively sure this was definitely the stride of a cat my rate interest in the subject aroused me as we are spending the weekend on Kiawah Island and after doing research on the web I am 100% convinced that this was a Carolina panther scene by myself around 6:30 AM as a passenger in the vehicle My visual was clear and concise I can still see that image to this very day nature certainly has its bounties and all shapes and forms

Comment: 

I live in Burlington, NC. We have a black panther captured on our trail cam over the weekend

Comment: 

Last night (morning of 8 Oct 2020) about 1:30 AM my driveway alarm went off. I turned on the light and saw a large, long black cat looking animal with a long thick tail running across the yard. It was too large to be a house cat. I would say it looked more like a panther. This was in Waynesville, NC

Comment: 

I have 3 trail cam shots taken Oct 8, 2020, sometime in the night (had no correct time set on camera) of a large, long golden-brown cat with a very long , thick tail walking across my yard. It was not a bobcat or a coyote. It looked exactly like a Florida panther or cougar! I also live in Waynesville, NC, in Jonathan Creek area.

Comment: 

Sorry for the rather late post...,1992 approx.

Blue Ridge Parkway south from Grandpa Mt.
A large feline/cat ran across the road approx 200’ ahead of me. It was a very dark brown. Guessing 6’-7’ nose to tail.
Currently I live in Northern California and as a landscape photographer for 40 yrs it’s amazing what one can see. This is or one of those experiences that many may not believe. I have serious doubts these regional cats are extinct.
Maybe it was just a mix of a black and light colored cat.

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