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The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

Oct 31

Written by:
10/31/2013 10:56 AM  RssIcon

Written by: Brad Howard

Have you seen this picture in an email or on Facebook lately?  We have! This photo has been passed around to numerous folks over the last month with claims that it has been taken in various locations across North Carolina. 

More recently, some attention was given to a few reports of “a black panther” in Stokes County. There were no photographs or other verifiable evidence to support those reports. While very rare, jaguars, leopards, the jaguarundi and even bobcats can have black coats but there has never been a documented occurrence of a melanistic phase (black) cougar in North America.

So, any report of a “black panther” or a “large black cat” is most likely mistaken identity since only the above-mentioned cats have a black phase and only one of those cats is native, the bobcat. The black phase in bobcats is extraordinarily rare. Determining if it were a bobcat would not be that hard. While not the norm, bobcats can exceed 40 lbs. in North Carolina, which is much larger than a lot of people think they can be!

The truth is the photo that is being spread around is of a rare melanistic phase leopard that is held in captivity in South Africa.  If you would like to read about the search for the black leopard and the person who owns this particular cat follow this link “    

Reports of large cats across North Carolina are quite common but no physical evidence exists to confirm any of these reports and most can be attributed to mistaken identity and of course, the potential of someone’s illegal exotic pet escaping does exist. Once native to North Carolina, the eastern cougar has not been documented in more than 100 years. Several years ago the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the eastern cougar extinct. So the native big cat that once roamed North Carolina’s fields and forests is no more.

There is no “remnant” population of big cats that has somehow been surviving in the mountains or swamps undetected for 100 years, that just isn’t really genetically possible. Cats are not that long lived and a population can’t exist without some form of genetic exchange. Genetic exchange means new unrelated cats would have to enter the population from somewhere. If new cats were entering the population then, at some point in time over the last 100 years, a cat would have been hit by a car, shot by someone or otherwise documented coming into the state. So, while the stories are fun and the legends are as old as our state, the legendary cat of the mountains and the swamps is just that, a legend.

However, the Florida panther and the western cougar are quite real. The Florida panther is still endangered and while the range of the Florida panther is basically south Florida, these cats do at times wander north. A Florida panther was shot by a hunter in Troup County, GA., in 2008. Troup County is just southwest of Atlanta so these cats, especially young males can travel quite a distance. Incidentally, the Florida Panther is still listed as an endangered species and the hunter was charged and convicted in federal court.

Western cougars, also commonly known as mountain lions, panthers, painters, pumas, or catamounts depending on where you are from are doing quite well across their range and range expansion continues to occur. Actual wild cougars have been documented in several states where they have also been missing for many years, such as Kansas and Missouri. One adventurous cougar even found its way to Connecticut from the Dakotas several years ago. Incidentally, this traveling cat was actually positively identified in multiple states as it passed through either by photo, hair analysis or scat before it was finally struck and killed by a vehicle in Connecticut.

While cougars are expanding their range, North Carolina is still quite a distance from the closest breeding population of cougars and the probability that a dispersing cat would leave occupied range and make its way to North Carolina without being detected in a neighboring state isn’t very high. 

Will they return to the state one day? 

Possibly so but it could be quite some time before they get here.  With the number of peopleand trail cameras across the landscape in North Carolina these days we feelconfident that should a wandering male find its way to our state we will getsome evidence pretty quick.

Until then, Commission biologists remain patient for proof that a wild cougar has made its way to our state. We will probably see a number of hoaxes, perhaps an escaped exotic pet or two and who knows what else before that time?

On a final note, people always ask “if they don’t exist” is it ok if we shoot them?  Well, nobody ever said that big cats “don’t exist.”  The position remains that “no documented evidence exists to prove that a 'wild’ cougar is here.” There have been documented occurrences of escaped exotic pets on several occasions over the last few decades. People keep all sorts of things as pets, some legal some illegal. These animals do, from time to time, escape from their owners and show up in strange places.  

So, can I shoot it? 

Why would you want to? If it truly is a wild cat that has made its way to North Carolina why would the first thought be to shoot it?  Let’s back up. North Carolina law allows any person at any time to shoot a wild animal that presents a direct threat for bodily harm. So, if the cat was attacking, you can by law shoot the cat. If a cougar is killed under threatening circumstances or accidentally, such as in a collision with a vehicle, that person should note the location of the carcass and notify the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission at 1-800-662-7137.

If the cat is just walking by your deer stand and it appears to be a cougar you should not shoot it. 

It could be an escaped pet or it could in fact be an actual wild cougar that has found its way to North Carolina from one of the established population, either from Florida or from the upper Midwest! If it were in fact a wild cat then it is a nongame animal and there is no open season for taking cougar. Since we have stated several times that cougars do not have a melanistic (black) phase then by all means if you see a “black panther” you are not prohibited by law from shooting it but be careful, you might be shooting someone’s house cat, dog, exotic pet or other domestic animal that you thought was a black panther.

For now, we remind everyone to be skeptical of those emails and Facebook posts that claim a picture was taken in this place or that.  We always recommend a little Internet searching, most of the time you will find that same picture in numerous places across the World Wide Web!

By Brad Howard,
Certified Wildlife Biologist®
Private Lands Program Coordinator,
Division of Wildlife Management 

31 comment(s) so far...

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

I'm not sure what kind of cat it was if we don't have those species in NC, but in years past there have been numerous sightings of a dark coated animal with a very long tail in Brunswick County. Tails of lengths that of the body. So i'm not sure then what those animals are since we supposedly don't have those cats here. The sightings that i am familiar with were around Half Hell and middle swamps in Bolivia NC.

By Kyle Sellers on   10/31/2013 3:51 PM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

I saw one three years ago .3 mi E of I95 on SR 1958 just after sunrise. Lifelong outsdoorsman but no pics.

By Mark K on   10/31/2013 6:30 PM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

There is NO mistaking the long lean body and tail just as long that is ovet half a road width wide.

By Mark K on   10/31/2013 6:32 PM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

I have seen one of these while rabbit hunting in the grassy ridge area of NC. I guess you could say it was a bobcat but I didn't think bobcats had long tails. Wether or not it was native or imported I dont know but I know what I saw and it was in the middle of nowhere.

By John on   10/31/2013 6:54 PM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

I call Horse Pucky. I live near Rosman. While NC claims that there are no mountain lions here, 5 miles away SC says that they are all over the mountains. It is rather odd that they not only know where the state line is, but they also know not to cross it. As far as documentation, well it does exist. 10 years ago there was a "non existent" mountain lion struck and killed by a car on I26 at the Hendersonville exit. There were quite a few witness to the accident, and even more people saw the dead animal. Last year, there was a film crew in Cherokee filming about a group that was looking for civil war relics. They rounded a corner and came face to face with one. I personally have seen 6 very much alive mountain lions both here at home and in SC. I have twice seen a black panther, Both times were on Lake Russell in SC. Both times were just after sun up and were less than 50 feet away. There were additional witnesses on both occasions. I have seen the chocolate brown one that lives near the girl scout camp near my house. Coming back from the beach, I saw one as red as an irish setter just outside of raleigh. It walked across the road in front of me, but was gone before I could get my camera phone up. I have also seen 2 blond colored cats. Anyone that lives near Rosman can tell you they are around here.

By Jerry L Higdon. on   10/31/2013 7:11 PM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

When my son was small, we had a house in Yancey County, near Newdale. I was washing dishes one evening, with the window open, and I heard the most horrific 'scream' that made the hair literally stand up on the back of my neck. Terrified I ran to my son's room who explained that the "kitty" was outside the window. I don't know to this day what it was, but it scared the crap out of me and he was only 5, and it was dark, so I have no idea what it was. It sounded like a woman screaming, but it was no woman. Now, this may sound far fetched, but it happened---twenty-five years ago.

By Sherry Hughes Jones on   10/31/2013 11:44 PM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

I was coyote hunting late one night last january in Macon country near the Nanatahala national forest, over looking a snow covered field my parntner and I noticed a small doe at the edge of the tree line. Using a spotting scope we noticed what looked like a large 4 legged animal walking down the hill behind the deer, yet the animal remained undetected by the doe. The animal that we observed was to what to looked like a medium sized panther its coat was a strong contrast against the snow covered hill side. The panther then changed directions and moved off to the other side of the hill. We switched our positions and walked out and back to our vehicles and to our knowledge the doe still being there. We returned the next morning to retrieve a lost wallet left in our deer stand and to our amazement we noticed a pool of blood covering the ground with cat tracks all around where the doe had been
standing, and the caucus was drug up the hill through thick laurel and was half eaten and frozen.

Natural Resource Management student at Western Carolina

By Justin Winter on   11/1/2013 1:27 AM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

Indeed! As my great grandpa used to say, "don't kill it if your not going to eat it". Grandpa was in one of, your articles about fox hunting.

By Terri on   11/1/2013 6:26 AM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

Yall can say what you want to say and spread all this nonsense around, but they are around and I have seen one not more than 50-60 yards from me. It has been serveral years since I have seen it but other people have seen it too. So if this is the case and a person was to shoot one...what would be said. Their are so many creatures in these swamps around here that none of us really knows what all is out there. What I saw was definitely a LACK PANTHER. IM 40 years old and have been hunting since I was 4 so Im not just someone who doesn't know anything about animals. There have been quiet a few seen and caught on camera around here. Some of yall need to wake up and face the facts and quit lying to yourself and others......they are real and they are here. As far as the picture yall were referring to I cant say anything about that one

By Jesse Mobley on   11/12/2013 6:03 PM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

17 years ago I hit a large cat with my mini van in Currituck. It was as large as a German Shepherd and had a long tail. It was tan with spots. I am terrified of wild cats, it was late at night and I was alone. I was too afraid to stop. I stopped at the next open place,(7-11)and asked what I should do. They said nothing because it was probably just a Bob Cat. I let it go at that. The next day it was gone. No way could it have survived that hit. It took out the front bar of my bumper. It had to have been decapitated or at least broke it's neck. This was next to the inland waterway.

By Bonnie Covey on   11/12/2013 10:16 PM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

I have 27 in my backyard. Some weigh at least 300 pounds.

By Black panther on   12/1/2013 10:10 AM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

sorry to bust your bubble, but my wife and neighbors have seen big black cats around our home multiple times. we live about 3 miles from nc line in tn. I have tracked them with dogs. if it wasn't a federal crime to admit you shot one, you might be surprised at how many "delusional hillbillies" could show you proof that black panthers are alive and well in the Appalachians. think about it... you say they don't exist, if we prove they do exist by showing you one, we get arrested for killing an endangered species.

By tim on   1/3/2014 11:16 PM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend andanother large CAT

In the early 1990's I was traveling highway 70 on the long stretch between Kinston and New Bern when a large (and I mean Large0 yellow cat that appeared to be a cougar came out of the south side of the woods and ran across the road in front of my vehicle. I was traveling at about 70 MPH. The cat went into the median and traveled in the median for about 100 yards before darting across the west bound lanes and into the woods on the "north" side of highway 70. It was an interesting experience. I had never seen a cougar in the flesh before but I had seen moving pictures of them. This cat was the size one would expect for a yellow cougar. I think I was in Craven county but I am not certain. At this time in my career My business to observe and measure objects I was investigating. Do cougars live in the forests of NC ? and in the eastern counties?

By Daniel Smith on   1/9/2014 6:19 PM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

I have just read the above article and to say the least find it amusing if not hysterical. I guess the photo of the 180 pound Tom run over just outside of Highlands was a joke also. Several years ago a friend of mine told me about a pair of Mountain Lions that would lay on a rock ledge just off the Parkway in Alleghany County sunning in the Fall afternoons. At one time I quail hunted around Plymouth N.C. and got to know one of the game wardens and he told me he had seen a pair not 10 miles from there. Just this past deer season a local hunter had a trail cam near the Yadkin River just outside of Rockford in Surry County and had snapped photos of a Mountain Lion at his bait pile he had out for deer. I realize that you people are part of the government but is it not possible for the part you are in to tell the truth? Hell our people in Congress, the Senate and the President are all confirmed liars but aren't you people just a little above that? This has become nonsense.

By D.M. Shore on   2/18/2014 2:29 PM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

I quit hunting many years ago. Now I love to set trail cameras w/different baits to entice different animals into the cameras range. I would love to be the one to prove that there are cougar in Edgecombe county. I don't think I would post it anywhere, just knowing the big cats are surviving would be enough. I remember the first sign of deer and the first sighting of bear in Temperance Hall and I fully believe that Forestry Management stabbed Wildlife Management in the back by not considering wildlife habitat into the destruction of forest. I guess hindsight is truly 20-20 even though hindsight is a very poor way to conduct management of anything.

By Alben Smith on   3/6/2014 6:25 AM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

Early one morning in 1990, here in Union County, NC, I was driving my daughter to school when a huge black panther slowly walked across the road as I approached a curve. It was a remote area on the South Carolina border. There was NO MISTAKING what this animal was! It was enormous, with a long, thick tail and a stealthy, smooth gait. I stopped in the road in total disbelief and my kids were yelling, "Mom!!! What is that? Is it a panther? It's a panther isn't it!!!" I couldn't say a word. All I could do is stare as it disappeared into the woods at the edge of the road. Nobody, of course, believed us. But we saw it and nobody can tell me I didn't. Years later, the Union County newspaper reported that yes, a black panther was likely in the area due to the fact that South Carolina had released some in the wild to control deer population and at least one had wandered into NC and off the SC radar. Numerous citizens videotaped the animal and sent it to the local Charlotte news. There's evidence. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own two eyes. And I did.

By Karen Howell on   6/21/2014 12:06 PM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

Is there no honesty left at any level of this government ?
What exactly is the point of lying to everybody about everything ?
There's no shame in admitting that you don't know everything, but educate yourself.
Don't write BS articles & try to pass them off as fact.
Undocumented for over 100 years, while sightings are common is a LIE.
They're undocumented in your office because you're not doing your job.
Talk to your people who spend time in the field, they've seen them, they know they're here.
We all know they're here. Many of the people reporting sightings have spent most of their lives outdoors. They know what they're seeing, & they know it's not a house cat.
Declaring an animal extinct doesn't make it go away.
The Coelacanth was extinct far longer than 100 years, didn't stop people from eating them regularly. Maybe you could write another BS article & explain to them that there's no nutritional value in eating fish that don't exist.

By CB on   7/1/2014 10:40 PM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

Well we just saw one run across our drive here atop the mountain in NC just 7 miles from the TN line. Pretty startling, yet stunning. So we just saw the LEGEND run was large and black. It sure as hell wasn't a domestic kitty cat. Just off HWY 321.

By Triple M on   8/30/2014 6:56 PM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

I have seen with my very on eyes a big cat in the little Switzerland area of nc not a black one and not a bobcat eather so no this isn't true their are big cat's in the mountains

By Frank Proffitt@ on   8/31/2014 1:00 PM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

If the soles on the article writers shoes were as worn as his seat cushion people might get a chance to read a well informed and educated story.

By D.M. Shore on   9/4/2014 10:17 PM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

Me, my dad and my brother seen one in the Columbus County side of the Green Swamp, before they did a lot of the clear cutting of recent years. Seen it clear as day walk from one side of the road to the other. And with all of us being avid outdoorsmen, I know for a fact what it was we seen.

By K Barnes on   9/12/2014 6:23 PM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

I saw a black one about 40 years ago crossing I-85 in Guilford County near Groometown exit.Early in the morning he crossed in front of me,stopped at the edge of the pavement and it was gone.Round head and club tail couldn't have been anything else.I called a game warden later and he said droppings had been found around the lakes north of Greensboro but nothing else.

By J Taylor on   10/7/2014 4:23 PM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

Early one morning in June 2009 I was headed from Cullowhee, NC, on Route 74 going east toward Asheville, when 2 friends riding with me and I saw a black panther. I was in the left lane, saw it way ahead and figured it must have been a black hound dog in the fast lane. I pulled over to the right lane to avoid it. As we drew nearer I saw it did not have a hound's head and had a very long black tail. There is a 2' divider and the animal grabbed it with its paws, drew up its hind legs so they stood on top of the divider and leaped into the other side of the road. My friend sitting in the front seat with me saw it too and said, that was no dog move, it was a cat move.

By Lois Hornbostel on   10/12/2014 6:33 PM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

I saw one of these big black cats about 5 yrs ago. It scared the hell out of myself and my daughter it came across our yard from the woods like it owned the place my husky hide under my car after barking to alarm us. I know what I saw and it was a huge black cat like animal we live in lucama which is wilson county

By Tasha Lucas on   11/3/2014 6:54 PM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

One was spotted this evening here in Bladen County crossing highway 211. Also heard of two other sightings in the area in the pass 3years. I'm Native American and all my life I've heard the elders and hunters talk about seeing them and hearing of others seeing them all around here and the Green Swamp.

By ndn appleblossom on   11/4/2014 1:18 AM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

NOT a legend. Today, 11/13/2014, I made a photo trip down into the Uwharrie to capture fall colors. I saw a beautiful tree, wanted to shoot it. A very nice lady was in her yard, I asked permission to shoot. She asked if I was a photographer, I answered yes and went ahead. When I finished, she approached me with a photo her husband had recently shot on their property, running along the small Little River in Randolph County. Immediately I realized it was a Black Panther in retreat. She indicate that she and her husband had approached numerous so called experts, all of them stating that Black Panthers here had never been witnessed. So called experts are just that, "So Called"

By Ted Hunter on   11/12/2014 2:39 PM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

I am 14 and I saw one around 3-4 years ago I was outside playing I was in my drive way about 20-25 feet away from the sighting I watched it for about 7-10 seconds I was just SO SCARED I remember just how long it was and it`s back was way to straight to be a dog I live in the woods so i have seen just about every wild animal there is but i have never seen that it came out of my dogs path she had made over the years but when i came in i did my best to tell my parents but they said it was a dog and called me crazy but every time i see a panther picture i remember that day from .jack

By jack mc. on   11/16/2014 4:02 PM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

I live in Madison County, and know several people who have seen a black panther. In fact in September 2007, north of Weaverville, one came from the right of the four lane and crossed in front of our car. It was across the road in four to five leaps. Another time, near AB Tech in Madison, a yellow mountain lion came from my left, crossed the road and went into the wood. I know someone, who passed away a few years ago, that killed a young black panther in Jackson county. He had just put food out for his cats, and gone back inside, when he heard the cats in distress and looked out. A black panther was attacking them and he shot it.

By Dana Stephens on   11/22/2014 10:10 AM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

I would also like to add, that about 50 years ago, my great uncle was working in the fields, when he spotted a mountain lion with two cubs. She kept coming closer, and he hurried to the house and got his gun, but when he returned, they were gone.
Also a few years ago, a friend of my nephews told him that when he came down his drive, he saw a yellow mountain lion grab a groundhog and run off with it. My nephew didn't believe him, until he and his wife saw it the next day in his yard. There are so many people in my area who have seen and heard mountain lions over the years. I'm certain that a bit of research from the NC Wildlife would realize that they really are here, and always have been.

By Dana Stephens on   11/22/2014 10:18 AM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

All you folks claiming you've seen animals that dont exist...out of hundreds of people saying theyve seen them, one would think there would be some sort of evidence to prove it. Yet theres none? Black Panthers? You seen black bears or hefty black house cats. These bullsh!t stories are all the same. There should be tons of proof, not "years ago, i seen a panther cross the road " Give me a break. Nobody believes these cockamamie prove it.

By Tall Tales.. on   11/23/2014 10:31 AM

Re: The Legendary Cat of the Mountains and the Swamps is Just That, a Legend

We saw a very large black cat (40 / 50 lbs) crossing Grouse Moor Drive on Sugar Mountain NC last evening.

By Paul bozard on   11/23/2014 10:04 PM

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