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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.


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):

North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission:

Puma concolor at the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS):




In the fall of 2004, as I was driving to work along Hwy 710 south in Robeson County, NC around 7 am, I saw, a black panther take two pounces across the highway, up the embankment into a strand of trees. It came from the east, its tail long and curved upward across the road going westward. I was driving a pt cruiser at the time and the cat was taller than the front of the hood . It had pointed ears , a sleek body, and it was so graceful as it leaped up the embankment. I know NC zoologist say black panthers are not found in our state, but I've saw one and they are here. I spoken to many hunters and farmers and they have seen the black panthers too.


I know for a fact that there are black panthers in SC because I saw a female black panther with two baby cubs behind it while hunting in Orangeburg SC.


Alexander, same. I saw a mom with a cub in Chester a few years back.


Yesterday around 5 pm, my husband, a realtor and myself had a Mountain Lion jump the road in front of us about 30 yards ahead of us while walking a 19 acre property in Murphy NC mountains! The massive cat cleared the road in one swift near silent leap. It was at least 5 foot long plus the length of its thick long tail which was at least 3 feet. Coolest thing I have ever seen!


My Grandfather grew up in Leicester, NC a sleepy little mountain hamlet above Asheville. He told me many times the story of being followed home one night on a mountain trail by a black "Painter" and no I did not misspell it, that's the way he pronounced the name of the big cat, no doubt a Scotch-Irish brogue pronunciation of the word "Panther". Most of the time when the Old Mountain Folk spoke of this beast one could see the sincerity of fear in the storyteller's eyes. It was known to be illusive, a killer and would stalk it's prey by night , it's growls and cry would make the bravest man's blood run cold with fright. I was astonished one night when all he had told me about this feared animal was brought to light while I was watching the movie "Song Catcher". Some of the very same tales he had told me about the big cat, years before this movie existed. Just ask the people of the Great Smokies about the "Black Painther" that roams the mountains of NC.


A black one was spotted on Johns Island SC


Attempts have been fruitless? Just saw a game camera photo today of a black one. Big one too. It seems none of the NC zoologists employ tech at least as sophisticated as what Gander Mountain sells to the average hunter.

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