Scientific Name: Felis concolor
Classification: Extinct
Abundance: None

Species Profile (PDF)

Florida Cougar (Photo: USFWS)

Although classified as a member of the small cat family because of its skull and eye structure, the cougar is quite a large animal, the largest of all other species in its genus. The cougar’s coloration varies depending on where it lives and the time of season, but most often it ranges from tawny to grayish brown on its back and flanks, with a white chest, belly and throat. Dusky patches border the upper lip and the back of the ears while the tip of its tail is black. The cubs are buff-colored with spots that eventually fade.

The cougar is known to be an excellent hunter in all weather conditions and it is an expert swimmer and good climber. It has speed and agility and is a stealthy stalker that hunts by sight and smell. It prefers wild quarry such as deer; however, cougars have been known to eat anything from slugs to horses.

Originally there were 11 subspecies of cougars native to North America, but only two of them— the Eastern cougar and Florida cougar—were found east of the Mississippi River. Today, only a handful of Florida cougars still survive in southern Florida, and most biologists believe the native Eastern cougar (Felis concolor) has been extinct for many years.

The last known sighting on an Eastern cougar in North Carolina was in 1886 in Macon County. The Eastern cougar is considered an extinct species in North Carolina and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the Eastern Cougar from the Federal list of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife after concluding it had been extinct since 1930s.

Learn more by reading the Eastern Cougar Wildlife Profile

Though cougars have been extirpated from North Carolina since the late 1800s, the NCWRC still receives reports from the public on sightings of cougars or cougar tracks. Upon investigation, NCWRC biologists have concluded that many reports of cougar sightings or their tracks are misidentification of both domestic and wild animals. Domestic cats and dogs, coyotes, bobcats, and red foxes infected with mange are the most common animals mistaken for cougars. It is possible that some sightings can be attributed to captive cougars that have escaped or been illegally released. During the 1980s, two captive cougars were found feeding at a dumpster in Tyrrell County. No tangible evidence exists that wild cougars currently exist in North Carolina. NCWRC also receives reports of “black panthers.” The only species that fits this description is a leopard and jaguar, which is a spotted cat whose size overlaps with that of the North American cougar, often with spots that are difficult to discern. Jaguars are native to Mexico, Central and South America and range as far north as South Texas, New Mexico and Arizona; no wild jaguars have been reported outside of the southwestern United
States. Leopards are native to Africa, Central Asia, India, and China. However, many of their populations are endangered, especially outside of Africa. It is most likely that folks are seeing a black bear or a bobcat in the shadows. As with cougars, it is also possible that it is a captive jaguar or leopard that has escaped or been illegally released.