Are there big cats in middle Georgia?


A local man recently posted the phrase "Mountain Lion running down 441" on a Facebook page and posted the above picture further down in the comments.

As it turns out, it was indeed a mountain lion, but it wasn't on US 441 or any other part of Milledgeville or any other part of the eastern United States, for that matter. The photo actually came from a 2018 news story in San Carlos, Calif.

Bobby Bond, a wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, says that instances like these are becoming increasingly common in the day and age of social media, where someone will make claims like "Mountain Lion running down 441" as a prank or to simply to stir things up on social media. 

In fact, there hasn't been a documented big cat sighting here in Georgia since 2008, when a cougar was shot and killed outside of Lagrange in west Georgia. Prior to the 2008 west Georgia cougar, meanwhile, there hadn't been any documented big cat sightings since 1994, when several cougars released by wildlife biologists into north Florida ventured into south Georgia and feasted on some cattle before being eliminated.

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Nevertheless, Bond said that the DNR will receive photos or trail cam still shots at least once a month of an animal that's supposedly a cougar or a panther. Then, inevitably, Bond and the other research biologists will eliminate the possibility that it's a cougar or a panther. 

"Many times, it's a house cat, but the person isn't actually looking at the photo at scale," Bond said. "If it's a trail camera, we'll ask for follow-up (photos) of any other animals that may have been capture (by the trail cam) for perspective."

"Cougars and panthers and mountain lions" actually are all the same species and the same animal, depending where in the world you live. In this part of the world, cougars/panthers  are rarely spotted any further north than Orlando, according to Bond.

Also, according to Bond, there's no such thing as a "black panther." When people swear that they saw a "black panther," it inevitably turns out to be a black coyote or a black lab or some other kind of dog. Jaguars and leopards are the only two big cats in the entrire word that are capable of having a "melanistic phase." In other words, Jaguars and leopards  the only two big cats that can appear to be black or have darker features.

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