Cougar, the largest predatory carnivores feline animal in North America, has been confirmed to be roaming the lands of Tennessee by the TWRA, Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency. The feline was native to the area in the early 1900’s but haven’t been known to exist in Tennessee until recently. Approximately 9 confirmed sightings has caused the agency to speculate cougars making a comeback to Tennessee.
Confirmed cougar sightings have been recorded to be found in Obion, Carroll, Humphreys and Wayne Counties between 9/20/2015 to 9/4/2016. (https://www.tn.gov/twra/article/cougars-in-tennessee)
The majority of submitted sightings were photos from trail cams on landowners property. The TWRA follows an extensive protocol when confirming of wildlife sightings. Trail cam photos are not enough to grant confirmation. Often they will visit the property, look for tracks and signs evident to cougar habitat. In Carroll County, the landowner was collected a hair sample which was submitted and DNA confirmed it was a cougar similar to those found in South Dakota.
Cougars, also known as the mountain lion, mountain screamers, panther, painter, puma and catamount are estimated to weigh 70 to 250 pounds and be 5 to 8 1/2 feet long.
Various name given to the cougar depended on the feline’s territory of native land across North and South America. North American primarily calls the feline a Cougar but many natives commonly call them mountain lions or panthers, often confusing the black panther with a cougar.
These felines, such as the domesticated cat, are solitary, nocturnal predatory animals characteristically shy, secretive and sneaky. They are adapt at sprinting, pouncing, leaping, climbing and running in excess speeds of 40 to 50 mph. They can swim but aren’t commonly associated with water.
Populated areas are typically avoided but farmlands with domestic livestock such as cattle, horse and sheep often become targeted. Cougars will hunt deer, coyote, armadillo and smaller animals native to Tennessee. They eat often and must maintain a primary source of meat in their diet for survival but are known to eat most anything, including insects.
It’s not been uncommon for bobcats to be mistaken as cougars in Tennessee, even though there are obvious differences between the two, most aren’t familiar with the similarities or differences in the two animals.
Bobcats differ in size, markings and specific characteristics. Bobcats are much smaller, 10 to 40 pounds, unlike the cougar weighing from 70 to 250 pounds. Their coats are often similar in color, especially from a distance, but the bobcat has spots or streaks of black in their fur.
Cougars have sleek coats, typically tan in color with white undersides; variations of browns can cause a hue of red, yellow or gray tint but overall their coats are unmarked, unlike the bobcat.
The two felines tails are noticeably different. Cougar tails have heavy long cylindrical tails 20 to 30 inches in length with a few inches blackish coloring on the tip; whereas a bobcat’s tail is short in length, 3 to 8 inches, appearing bobbed, representative of the name ‘bobcat’.
Bobcat and cougar ears vary specifically to the breed. Bobcat ears are pointed with tufts of hair on the tips while cougars are small, rounded with the upper side of the ear black without any noticeable tufts of hair on the tips.
Additional markings and differences of a cougar include a white muzzle that turns black toward the top of the head; claws are retractable, seldom part of their tracks, making it difficult to determine the animal track. A smaller female cougar track could be mistaken for a larger bobcat track but if the track has noticeable retractable claw markings it would be specific to a cougar.
Chances of seeing a cougar,out the back door of your home or while hiking is unlikely but not impossible. Sightings of cougars are most likely in the late spring and summer when young cougars leave their mother’s side to search for their own territory.
Although nocturnal in nature, they are most active during dusk and dawn but are apt to roam and during all hours of the day, night or season. Cougars are known to be unpredictable. Taking a walking stick while hiking can present helpful if predatory animals, such as a cougar, is encountered. If one is spotted, running or turning away from the feline could instigate an attack, especially if approaching one feeding on its kill or a female with kittens.
It’s recommended to stay calm, stand tall, make eye contact, appear menacing and threatening, throw rocks or sticks, make lots of noise, swinging arms and/or a large twig rapidly. Children and small dogs should be picked up and carried because they tend to be easily frightened potentially instigating the cougar attack. Fighting a cougar can persuade it to retreat; whereas playing dead will not cause the cougar to disengage from attacking. The majority of fatal attacks on humans are children.
If cougars are sighted, suspected of farming disturbances or attacks witnessed, the TWRA should be contacted. Shooting a cougar if attacked isn’t against the law. The TWRA plan to monitor expansion of cougars and will accept submissions of footage or samples of potential cougar sightings. To find out more about how to submit a possible cougar sighting visit https://www.tn.gov/twra/article/cougars-in-tennessee to learn more.