Wildlife Biologist: Cougars Possibly Living in Alabama

January 1, 2016 10:17 AM
Wildlife Biologist: Cougars Possibly Living in Alabama

The state of Tennessee had four cougar sightings in 2015, the first confirmed in about 100 years.

Does this mean there could be cougars in Alabama? A wildlife biologist for Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources says it's possible.

"As a biologist, I need some kind of confirmed physical evidence before I can reasonably believe they are here," Thomas Harms, biologist and the state's large animal coordinator based in the Mobile area, told AL.com. "However, just because we don't have any confirmation yet doesn't mean there isn't a possibility that mountain lions (or cougars) are here."

The state investigates all reported sightings, but there hasn't been any documented evidence of a big cat in Alabama since 1947, when a Florida panther was killed in Chilton County. The last verified cougar in Alabama was killed in St. Clair County over 50 years ago.

Most of the reported big cat sightings are actually bobcats and coyotes, Keith Gauldin, assistant chief of wildlife for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, told AL.com last year.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency says four cougars were spotted in the western portion of the state over the last year. Three were confirmed by pictures or video. Another was confirmed by a hair sample.

Authorities believe the animals are western cougars that have expanded their territory.

There does seem to be a resurgence of cougars from the west moving east, Harms said. Sightings have been confirmed in Missouri, Arkansas and west Tennessee.

"Should mountain lions translocate from that area, it is reasonable to believe they would be first spotted in northwestern Alabama," he said.

Harms said the cougars move east is likely due to "displacement, lack of hunting pressure and a boom in food availability, especially with the abundance of feral hogs."

A former north Alabama resident who contacted AL.com said he first saw a cougar in the mountains there in 1964. He witnessed one jump into a hog pen and come out with a small pig in its mouth.

"They are here and have never left," he said, especially in remote areas like Grant and Woodville.

He said he never reported his sightings to state officials. He wants the cougars left alone.

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