Cougar: Ghost of Appalachia

A phantom haunts Appalachia. Blurry trail camera pictures and occasional eerie screams in the forest keep the debate about the Eastern cougar’s existence alive among scientists and lay people, even after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the elusive ghost cat extinct in 2011.

The Eastern cougar, Puma concolor cougar — also known as ghost cat, catamount, puma, painter, panther and mountain lion — once roamed Eastern North America from Canada to Florida. All but the Florida Panthers were wiped out by the early 1900s. Hunting by European settlers, loss of habitat and a decline in the white-tailed deer population — the cougar’s favorite meal — all played a part in its demise.

Myths surround these tawny predatory cats, which can grow up to 8 feet long and weigh in at 200 pounds. One is the notion that they are man killers. The truth is, a fatal accident with a white-tailed deer is many times more likely than a fatal cougar attack.

Cougar sightings east of the Mississippi River often turn out to be misidentifications of other wild animals or house pets, wandering western cougars, or captive cats that have escaped or been released.

“When somebody asked us about cougars, we didn’t say, ‘They’re not here,’” Tennessee Wildlife authorities say. “We said, ‘There’s never been good evidence that cougars are here.’ And then they misconstrue that to say, ‘The agency said there are no cougars here.”

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  1. Tim Truemper

    This is a very good publication and am happy to see you posted one of their articles.

  2. Tim Truemper

    Luv the articles from Appalachian Voices. Coincidental to this post is a photo on the Friends of the Linville Gorge FB page of a cougar taken by trip camera (infrared). Not sure if it is legit as it could be a stock photo. Still, interesting development if authentic.

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