The eastern cougar is extinct, or more correctly, extirpated (totally wiped out), so the federal and state wildlife officials say, but sightings of the big cats are frequent here in the Southern Appalachians. It won’t do any good to contact the Georgia Department of Natural Resources if a cougar is sighted; they just laugh at such reports. So I have to settle for telling my friends, neighbors, and blog readers.
This morning I saw a cougar/mountain lion/panther/puma/catamount/painter (as the Appalachian old-timers called it) in my backyard.
I was outside with my daughter’s small dog, which we always keep on a leash because otherwise she would chase anything that moves, including large dogs or bears. I heard something coming through the woods behind the house and could tell it was something large, although it didn’t sound like a bear. I looked up to see a panther, sleek and slender, golden yellow in color and with a long tail, bounding down the hill through the woods in my direction. It was about the height of a German Shepherd. My first thought was, “That is not a housecat.” My second thought was, “That is not a bobcat.” Bobcats are native to this area and often are seen around here. The panther went behind our shed, and I got the dog and quickly went back inside the house.
If I had had my camera with me I would not have had the presence of mind to take a photo. However, this is what I saw:
(Photo Credit: allaboutwildlife.com)
Friends and acquaintances on our local community Facebook page have responded to my post with their own stories of seeing panthers, including black panthers. Our neighbor through the woods was not surprised at all with hearing that I had seen a mountain lion and said that she herself had seen a black panther about a year ago. One friend even remarked that if someone shot a panther they probably would be fined for shooting a protected species that doesn’t even exist in this area.
Panthers feature prominently in the folklore of Appalachia. The Cherokees called them the “Lords of the Forest,” and in the Cherokee clan system the Panther or Wildcat Clan was a subdivision of the Blue Clan (Blue Holly Clan). Appalachian settlers mostly feared the big cats. I’ve heard the stories of “painters” screaming in the night (sounding like a screaming woman), killing farm animals, following people who were walking home in the dark. I’ve also heard the stories of “painters” protecting children who were in danger.
Wildlife officials notwithstanding, folks who live here in the North Georgia mountains seem to accept the stories that mountain lions, panthers, cougars, whatever one wants to call them, still roam these hills. I definitely believe they do because this morning I saw one.