Big Cats on Goose Creek?

Mountain lion.
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been interested in learning “the truth” about the creature variously called the panther, painter, puma, cougar or mountain lion. Twice over the holidays, they slipped into conversations at parties–folks swearing they or someone they knew had seen one in southwestern Virginia here.

Let’s just say, pending the piece that will end up filling my column-inches in February, that the myth of the animal is very much alive; the reality of the existence any resident breeding wild mountain lions has no support, according to the site.

They do exist elsewhere, however, and there are breeding populations in the Everglades and out west. One was spotted for the first time since 1904 in Kansas–and shot–in 2007.

So what’s your take? Have you or someone reliable you know or know of seen a panther in Virginia or in your home state (or neighborhood?)

Okay, Doug, show us the picture of the one you took from your hot tub last summer. If anybody has pictures, it would be you. Or are you going to tell me you hit one with your bike like this poor guy?

I’d like to believe they’re out there–helping the Subarus control the deer population. But the facts say probably no Pumas on Goose Creek.

FACT: the largest cougar killed in North America weighed 276 pounds! Meow!

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I’ve been hearing for years that they are in WV mountains, especially in the northern sections, so it is possible that they are in VA, too, or it’s a myth in both places.

  2. Sightings are common in Southeastern Missouri right here in our neck of the woods. Recently, a horse was mauled and had to be euthanized. While clinging to the horse’s neck the cat had raked the chest open with its hind feet.

    At the head of our small valley, neighbors reported a pair of juveniles shacked up in a remote shed over a period of months. They were discovered by a very young child at close range. I believe the official word is that there are no breeding pairs in Missouri. Our neighbors were thrilled to have the cats stay with them and wanted no interference from authorities, so no reports were made. A mile downstream of us a neighbor witnessed at cat stalking his cow herd.

    Another neighbor claims to have shot a red wolf. “That weren’t no coyote!” he exclaimed. I think he told me that the contents of its stomach were some kind of insect. Heck, other neighbors say they’ve even seen a dark coated puma skulking right across the creek from us.

    I treasure my encounters with bobcats and coyotes — the time a bobcat bounded ahead of my truck for a 100 yards or so though a woody margin between a field and a dirt road (“Damn!” I thought, “That house cat can move!”), the time when walking on a ridge hounds sounded but it was a lone coyote which appeared on the logging road I was on. He assessed me with a glance and vectored down-slope. I worry some about pumas when I go out in the back field after dark on a foggy night to put out some corn for my ‘pet’ deer.

    I have seen large tawny corpses along the highway that don’t look right for a deer, but have never stopped to investigate.

  3. I’ll bite, although I don’t usually tell this story because, really, no one believes it. Mr. Geek, who I consider to be a *very* reliable outdoorsman, saw a mountain lion while we were camping at Twin Lakes State Park, in VA this past summer. Mr. Geek had gone by himself to buy firewood, and saw the cat trotting along the edge of the woods near the road. At first, out of the corner of his eye, he thought it was a loose Rhodesian Ridgeback (I guess like me, he first instinct is to assume “dog”.) But when he saw what it really was, he stopped and watched it, and had an excellent view of the cat trotting along for about 100 yards before it disappeared into the woods. He had a really good, long look at it – not just a momentary glimpse, and he said there was absolutely no doubt about what it was. We went back to look for tracks, but the ground was too dry and hard to show anything. We reported it at the park office, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t believe him. They said there weren’t any mountain lions in the area, and if he saw one, it was most likely an escaped or abandoned pet, and not wild.

  4. All I can tell you is that years ago when I lived in Check a neighbor lost a couple of cattle at two different times and both time large cat prints were seen in the area of the cattle.

    And on a much more mystical note; At the same time this was going on….(but before I had heard of the cat print sightings) I was dreaming of puma. Huge elaborate dreams….of encounters that always turned out friendly. Not much help but my two cents.

  5. Rumors and “amateur” sightings have abounded in the Great Smokies for years. I’ve come across hair traps in the backcountry set up by the NPS, which is basically a strand of barb wire with bait arranged so that whatever critter grabs the bait must leave a bit of hair on the wire for analysis. To date, there is no official evidence of big cats in the Great Smokies.

  6. I’ll tell you what…the big cats would be a big help with the overburgeoning deer populations that seem to plague some areas of VA and MD. Here in northern CA the mtn lions bring somewhat of a balance. That balance is not free, however. The presence of the cats means vigilance…children/small pets must be guarded and not allowed to run freely. Walks in the parks are not as simple, etc. When we put out the salt blocks for the deer, we know that the lions will follow. This summer was the first one in many that we have not seen/heard the cats on the other side of our back fence where the deer roam. By the way, we are just within the city limits on a wooded creek. A bit further out, the coyotes can be a similar problem for the small people/pets, too. I enjoy seeing all of these critters, but one must respect them and take precautions.

  7. Fred, I was just catching-up on reading your blog and saw this entry on Mountain Lions. I live in Buckingham County, Virginia, not too far from the Twin Lakes State Park that was mentioned earlier (if it is the same Twin Lakes Park that I’m familiar with).
    Two years ago we saw (but unfortunately didn’t get any pictures of) a Mountain Lion on our way home from dinner one evening. It was walking across the road and I thought it was a large dog owing to the speed and manner in which it was moving. Very deliberate and fairly slow. When we got closer to it (in the car, of course) it climbed a low bank beside the road and watched us go by. It was only as we went by that I saw the long tail with the curl at the end and the size of it’s paws. And realized that it couldn’t be a dog.
    About this same time a friend of mine, who is an avid hunter and had a game camera set-up on his farm in the same area, told me that he had captured several photos of a Mountain Lion.
    So yes, they are (or were a couple of years ago) in some parts of our State at least.

  8. On June 13, 2008, around 10:30 AM, Linda was in the shower, and Mo, our 11 pound pet Rhode Island Red rooster was surveying his domain outside.

    When she heard a squawk of distress, she could tell from the sound that Mo was struggling. She ran out, making all the noise she could to scare away what she knew was a predator. By the time she got out the door, she saw the rear end of a cougar running into the woods, and Mo came running to the house, with all feathers and a large portion of flesh removed from his back, down to the bone.

    In such a panic, and from a moving rear view, can she be sure it was a cougar? She verified the size and color. Large, short hair, tan. Did it have a long tail or a bobbed tail. That wasn’t a feature that “stood out”.

    Authorities say there are no longer any cougars in Alabama. But they were here on June 13th.

  9. Oh man, I hate when big cats are located by place name. Makes it easy for those who are sadly, still into killing them to prove…… whatever it is they are proving……bragging rights, whatver.
    Please folks, make up a place name if you’ve seen one. Don’t put any identifying landmarks in your story. Unless you are talking to someone who LOVES that there are still a few around, and won’t locate the cat to any ignoramus who would hunt it.
    It’s the only “on the ground” protections we’ve got for them.

  10. This gives me the creeps! The authorities need to put a bounty out for these things and once in for all wipe them out completely so we and our domestic pets can sleep in peace. Any cat that grows larger than say a Lynks need to be wiped out. Thank god for the internet to reveal these things!

  11. Uh, Wendel, that was not exactly the response I would hope for with this piece. You are far more at risk of being mauled and killed by dogs. Should we exterminate them so you sleep peacefully through the night, the sole species on the planet?

  12. I too live in Buckingham Co VA, and have seen a couger numerous times on our farm.. We also believe it has been on the roof of our home as ther was a calling card left on the roof with the shingled scratched up. Please email me if there is anything interesting on your sightings

  13. I too live in Check, Va and have a seen a large black panther on 3 separate occaisions in plain sight, 2 of which I feel I was being stalked. all occured around dusk in summer months.

  14. Mountain lions/cougars/pumas & a few black panthers continue to inhabit the forests & fields of Virginia & ALL eastcoast tidewater states.
    Despite denials by wildlife officials over the last 45 years, cougars have been confirmed thru photographs of tracks or the animal themselves in 11 eastern states, including Virginia & WV.
    As long as adequate cover (woods, rocky cliffs), prey(deer, rabbits) & water(ponds, streams) exist in any given region, there is NO logical reason why a female cougar would NOT take of residency in those specific regions. Cougars have been caught on film in 12 states east of the Mississippi River since 1965. Over 12,000 events have been reported, 30% by trained observers with wildlife, forestry management & law enforcement backgrounds.