Mountain lions are some of the most elusive animals that can be found in North America. Most people haven’t seen one, even those who live in their primary habitats. These stealthy cats can go completely undetected and live in places we would never expect. For some people, knowing if a mountain lion lives in their area is an important bit of information for their mental health – especially if they are about to go hiking! Today, let’s take a look at mountain lions in Georgia and see if there are any lurking in the state.
Are there mountain lions in Georgia?
While there aren’t any mountain lions that live in Georgia, there have been a few sightings over the past few decades.
Mountain lions go by a few names, including pumas, cougars, and the Florida panther. Scientists estimate that there are likely between 20,000 and 40,000 mountain lions left in the United States, but their population is growing. These beautiful animals were hunted into a severe decline, and only recently have they begun to buck the trend.
There are no native populations of mountain lions that currently live in the state of Georgia, but there used to be. Additionally, there have been some sightings in the past few decades, but these sightings are likely from small excursions by lions who wandered out of Florida.
Let’s explore some more about the history of mountain lions in Georgia, plus learn a bit about the possibility of their return!
When were mountain lions pushed out of Georgia?
In the past, mountain lions ranged across the entirety of North America and through Mexico. For hundreds of years, however, hunters and trappers have killed these animals out of fear for their livestock. Additionally, loggers and farmers methodically took land from these big cats. Over time, this pushed their occupied range further and further from what it originally was.
Today, the only stable mountain lion populations in North America are located in the Western United States, with the small exception of swamp cats that live in Florida.
Georgia was once home to these animals, but over time they were killed off or pushed west. The last of the eastern cougars likely disappeared around the year 1900, but their population was well into decline before that.
When were the last sightings of mountain lions in Georgia?
Although there are no native big cats in Georgia, there have been some sightings in the past 25 years. Three sightings, in fact, are considered credible and have some backing to them.
The most recent sighting of a mountain lion in Georgia happened in 2008 when a hunter was out looking for deer. He saw a cougar and ended up shooting and killing the animal. Upon investigation, the mountain lion was clearly a Florida panther that had wandered further north than had been seen before. The hunter was prosecuted for killing a federally protected animal and ended up with a $2,000 fine and 2-years of probation.
The Florida panther is the only stable subspecies of mountain lion that lives along the east coast today. It has a small range that is mostly isolated to pine forests and swamps in central Florida. Sadly, there are only 120 Florida panthers left in the wild today.
What other big cats live in Georgia?
Although there aren’t any cougars in Georgia, there are some other felines in the state!
Outside of feral housecats, the only wild feline that currently lives in Georgia is the bobcat. Bobcats are some of the most widespread members of the cat family in the United States. Almost every state has a population of them (except for some midwestern states).
Bobcats are medium-sized cats that average 15-40 lbs. They have stubby tails, spotted patterns, and characteristic tufts of hair sticking out of their ears. Bobcats are incredible hunters and primarily feed on rabbits but have a diversified diet depending on their environment. In environments where bobcats grow larger, they even have the ability to hunt and kill deer. This happens especially when their primary food source isn’t readily available. A bobcat can successfully kill an animal up to 8 times its weight.
Will mountain lions ever return to Georgia?
Although there are no mountain lions currently living in Georgia, there may be hope.
Mountain lions were in a sharp population decline that was matched with a decline in their occupied range. Over the years, they were pushed back until no eastern cougars remained, save for the small population in the Florida swamps.
Recently, there has been data that shows that mountain lion populations are slightly increasing. The data suggests they are beginning to take back their historic range. Current information suggests that these cats are roaming incredible distances in search of new territory and ending up in places they historically occupied. Take this example published in The Journal of Wildlife Management:
“While the distance the Connecticut cougar traveled was rare, we found that cougars are roaming long distances and are moving back into portions of their historical range across the Midwest ”, said LaRue. “Our study took in over 3,200,000 km² of territory, confirming the presence of Cougars from Texas, Arkansas and Nebraska, to the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba.”The Journal of Wildlife Management
With this amazing news, it’s possible that cougars will continue to repopulate their historic range. Although that may sound scary, it’s actually a massive conservation success. Although cougars are top predators, they don’t consider humans a food source.
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