Rare cougar (panther) killed in Georgia
Native population of cougars or panthers denied by officials
Let the debate rage. Hunters all over Georgia and beyond are abuzz over a rare cougar/panther that was killed at West Point Lake near Fort Valley (Troup County) Georgia by a hunter on Sunday, Nov. 16. Despite the lack of tags, tattoos or collar, Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division officials claim it was likely a cougar that was released or escaped from captivity.
The 140-pound, 88-inch (7-foot, 3 inches) male cat was shot by deer hunter David Adams of Newnan, Ga. on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land near the Abbottsford community west of LaGrange near the Georgia-Alabama line. The kill seemed to verify claims of sightings from hundreds of hunters and residents who have reported seeing cougars or panthers over the years. However, wildlife biologists continue to deny the animal’s range extends into the area and contend any panther or cougar seen or found in Georgia must be an illegally released or escaped pet.
“Though cougar and panther (also known as puma) sightings persist in Georgia, there are no known native populations of these animals roaming the woods,” Georgia Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) Region Supervisor Kevin Kramer said. Wildlife officials inspected the dead cougar, which they say had scuffed paws common to animals kept on concrete and low parasite levels they claim means it wasn’t feeding on wild game. The nearest breeding population of panthers or cougars are reportedly in south Florida, but residents throughout central and north Florida and Georgia continue to report seeing the large, long-tailed cats
The dead animal was taken to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia for a full necropsy where it was estimated to be under three years old and reportedly had “virtually no stomach contests,” which they say indicates the animal was raised in captivity and had trouble locating food without human assistance. “There is no reason to believe there are any more cougars out there. This likely is a unique experience, and while exciting, is not something for which we should be concerned,” Kramer added.
Adams was legally hunting deer from his tree stand at the time the cougar approached. Reports indicate he felt “threatened” as the big cat, which could have been tracking deer scent being used by the hunter, came under his stand.
An initial examination by Georgia WRD biologists found no tattoos, tags or collars, and confirmed the cougar had not been declawed. Further examination by the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS) in Athens, Ga. on Nov. 17 confirmed the cougar to be healthy and well fed. Researchers determined the cougar had a very low parasite level and that the pads on all four feet were scuffed. According to SCWDS staff, these findings “are consistent with a captive-reared cougar, not a wild specimen.”
“Due to the fact that there are no known native populations of cougars in Georgia, no permitted cougars in this area and that the closest Alabama facilities permitted to house cougars (in Elmore and Macon Counties) have accounted for all permitted cougars, the animal taken Sunday likely escaped or was released from a non-permitted individual,” a Georgia WRD release stated.
There currently are no leads as to who may have most recently held the animal, but the WRD says it will continue to look into all possibilities. Officials have long denied the existence of wild cougars or panthers in Georgia and North Florida. Also known as cougars, mountain lions and the “Florida panther,” pumas were nearly wiped out from most of eastern North America by the turn of the 20th century due to uncontrolled hunting and trapping, loss of habitat and a decline in their main food supply – whitetail deer.
Currently, the only documented eastern pumas in the wild exist in South Florida, where they are known as the Florida panther. The remaining documented eastern pumas are found in sanctuaries and captive breeding facilities.
In 1973, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed the eastern puma or cougar on the U.S. Endangered Species List. However, some federal and state officials want to see it removed, arguing that the puma is already extinct in the eastern U.S. – except for South Florida.
Despite numerous sightings over the years, only a dozen were accompanied by sufficient field evidence to be confirmed by biologists. To confirm a sighting, evidence in the form of a live or dead animal, body part(s), scat, hair samples, tracks preserved in plaster or video/photos is needed.