Wild Animals/panthers/cougars


My family lives in the country near the Holly Shelter Game Perserve on a dead end road. Between our home and the main road is a 40 acre pasture that has grown up over the last 20 years.  Across the road behind a few houses is Prince George Creek swamp. For many years we have heard big cats screaming and thought it was bobcats. Although I have repeatedly heard that panthers/cougars are no longer in NC, I beg to differ. Recently, not only has my sister seen one, I have as well. I was driving out of our road one morning and saw the big black cat crouched and playing with a vole in the middle of the road. I stopped about 75 yards away to get a good look. The panther looked from me to the vole about three times as if trying to decide if he wanted the vole or wanted to get away from me so I got a really good look at him. He stood, turned, and bouned back into the overgrown pasture. Shortly thereafter, I stopped to tell the police, who maintain a pasture for their horses on the other side of the road, that we had big cats in the area. The officer said he had seen him as well at about 3:30 in the morning when he was bring the horses in from a downtown patroll but didn't believe his eyes. So, not only have we seen him, we have law enforcement conformation. There are panthers/cougars in eastern NC.

Dear Jane,

I would not be at all surprised if you have cougars re-establishing in NC.  They are starting to do so all over the U.S.  Could be natural selection for individuals who are not as disturbed by human habitation as their wilder cousins.

Cougars/mountain lions (Felis concolor) are a tawny to dark grey-brown in color, not black.  There have been scattered reports of a few extremely rare melanistic (pure black mutant) mountain lions, and I've seen a video that really, really looked like one.  But if you have one in your area, try to get a picture!  They are incredibly rare, and the presence of one would suggest that your population of mountain lions is very small and inbreeding.  You don't see recessive traits like that showing up in individuals that are a product of a large, interbreeding, heterozygous population.

It's also possible that you have seen a melanistic bobcat, if the cat is really, truly black.  Those have been documented, though they, too, are very rare.

I hope you can get a photo.  I'd love to see it!


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Dana Krempels, Ph.D.


I'm an evolutionary biologist with a passion for animals. Ask about natural history, behavior, ecology, evolution. PLEASE NOTE:

If you have found an "orphaned" or injured wild animal or bird:
Please don't waste time asking questions on the internet, as the answers may come too late. DO NOT FEED THE ANIMAL, and DO NOT HANDLE IT unless it is in imminent danger. (Many wild "orphans" are not orphans at all!) If you are absolutely sure it is orphaned, keep it warm and quiet, and find a LICENSED WILDLIFE REHABILITATOR HERE. Don't try to raise a baby yourself, or rehabilitate an injured anmal. Many a well-intentioned rescuer will do more harm than good, especially with baby birds and baby rabbits.

Without geographic location, time of day and habitat, I can't help. A clear picture is always best.

It's impossible for me to I.D. an animal call without hearing it myself.

I'm not an expert on comparative strengths of different animals (more complicated than you might think!) nor bite forces.

I refuse to answer "Which of these two animals--X or X--would win in a fight?".

These hypothetical matchups range from impossible (Grizzly Bears and Gorillas don't even occupy the same continent.) to ridiculous (Someone asked me "Who would win a fight between a Great White Shark and a tiger?").

The vast majority of animals--even the fierce and powerful--are not as warlike as Homo sapiens, and it's childish to project our aggressiveness onto them.


I have been the fortunate caregiver to a group of Black-tailed Jackrabbits rescued from the Miami International Airport, and not releasable in this area because they are not native. I also have rehabbed and released Eastern Cottontails, and am in contact with many very experienced wildlife rescuers who regularly handle injured or orphaned rabbits and hares.

House Rabbit Society

Exotic DVM journal

I have a Ph.D. in Biology, with main areas of expertise in evolutionary biology, genetics, botany, and ecology.

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