Mountain Lions in Tennessee: What You Should Know

Mountain lion standing on thick tree branch
Geoffrey Kuchera/Shutterstock.com

Written by Jennifer Hollohan

Updated: July 24, 2023

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Rumors of mountain lion sightings in Tennessee abound. You may have seen photos or videos floating around online showing the large, solitary cat wandering outside. But is that photographic evidence accurate? Are there mountain lions in Tennessee?

The article below answers questions about the presence of mountain lions in Tennessee and whether the sightings are real. But first, we take a quick glance into what mountain lions are and where they live. Doing so will help paint a better picture of the impressive cat.

What Are Mountain Lions?

Also known as pumas, catamounts, panthers, and cougars, the mountain lion (Puma concolor) is in the Felidae (cat) family. It is one of the largest mammals in the Western Hemisphere and the largest cat in North America. 

Adult males are significantly larger than adult females. They can get up to 225 pounds and are 9 feet long (including their tail). However, adult male mountain lions average roughly 140 pounds and are 7 feet long. The smaller adult females average 80-90 pounds and only reach up to a maximum of 7 feet long. 

Their distinctive coloring means they can camouflage themselves in nearly every environment. Their primary color is tan or brown, but the shade of mountain lion fur can range. Sometimes it even appears to have a reddish or orange tint. That tan fur covers most of their bodies, but they have white on their stomachs and chest. Additionally, mountain lions have black on the last few inches of their tails, the tips of their ears, around their eyes, and their snouts.

These felines are solitary creatures and only come together during mating season. Additionally, females raise their cubs until the younger cats can strike out on their own.

Mountain lions prefer to hunt large game, like deer. However, they also eat smaller game like coyotes, raccoons, and mice. Additionally, mountain lions will eat domesticated animals and livestock that are left outside unprotected.

A mountain lion (Florida panther) drinking from a watering hole

Mountain lions are the largest cat in North America.

Mountain Lion Habitat

The impressive cats are not picky about their environment. Historically, they lived in nearly every region of the Americas, from the Yukon down to the tip of Chile. Mountain lions will happily live in wetlands, deserts, mountains, and forests. And they live at nearly any elevation — from sea level up to 10,000 feet. 

As long as there is a decent amount of food, enough to sustain them, mountain lions will stick around an area. They prefer regions with cliffs, rocky areas, or thick brush, as those spots help them hide while they stalk prey. 

Adult male mountain lions have a broad territory, roaming up to 100 square miles. But the females stick to a smaller area. Their territory typically only extends up to 60 square miles. However, recent sightings in areas without native mountain lion populations suggest the large cats may roam farther on occasion.

cougar

Mountain lions live in nearly every environment, from forests to deserts.

Where Do Mountain Lions Live in Tennessee?

While mountain lions originally lived in every region of the United States, including Tennessee, they no longer do. As settlers expanded into new areas, mountain lions’ habitat got destroyed. That habitat loss and encroachment brought settlers and mountain lions closer together. And most people feared the ferocious hunter would target their livestock. Subsequently, mountain lions got hunted relentlessly. 

Due to habitat loss and excessive hunting, the mountain lion population in Tennessee got decimated. The animal was officially extirpated from Tennessee by the early 1900s. 

State wildlife officials do not plan to reintroduce mountain lions into Tennessee and closely monitor any migratory movement of other mountain lion populations. However, state law protects the large feline. Killing a mountain lion in Tennessee is illegal unless life and property are in immediate danger. 

Mountain lion scream

There are no mountain lions currently living in Tennessee.

Mountain Lion Sightings in Tennessee

Despite the loss of a native mountain lion population, there have been numerous recent sightings in the state. State officials began tracking the reported and confirmed sightings in 2015 and have a database on their website. So residents can keep an eye on it to see if any have wandered near their homes.

In 2015, there were six confirmed sightings. Most came from trail camera footage submitted to the state by private landowners. However, one included a hair sample found by a hunter. They tested it and determined that the female mountain lion was related to the population in South Dakota. 

There were four additional sightings in 2016. And all of these confirmed cases came from trail camera footage. However, there have been no confirmed sightings since then. 

That does not mean the reports of sightings have ceased. The state receives regular reports of mountain lions in the area. However, some cannot get confirmed due to questionable trail camera footage. Other cameras and video footage turned out to be a smaller animal, such as a house cat or dog or a bobcat (which does live in Tennessee).

Additionally, many people submitted hoaxes to the state. They have uncovered countless reports that originated from other states or were photoshopped. So state officials investigate all reports thoroughly before determining their validity. If you capture an image of a suspected mountain lion on a trail camera, you should turn it over to the state so they can investigate and possibly put your mind at ease.

cougar

Mountain lion sightings in Tennessee started to happen again in 2015.

How To Avoid Getting Attacked by a Mountain Lion in Tennessee

The mountain lion subspecies that originally roamed through the state was the Eastern Cougar. And it is officially extinct. So the chances of running into a cougar in Tennessee are extremely slim, especially since the last confirmed sighting was in 2016. However, it is important to understand how to handle a mountain lion encounter if you spend any time in the wilderness.

These solitary creatures move almost silently through the landscape. Most of the time, they will leave people alone. But a mountain lion may attack if it feels threatened or you come between a mom and her cub.

If you encounter a mountain lion, make yourself appear as large as possible. Wave your arms in the arm and pick up any kids or pets to help them appear larger also. Making noise, such as yelling, may also deter them.

Turning your back or running will make you look like easy prey and trigger a mountain lion’s predatory instincts. So avoid doing either of these things. Instead, back up slowly, facing the large cat the entire time. 

And if one does attack anyway, never play dead. Always fight back, as it increases your chances of survival.

Fastest Cats - Cougar

Mountain lion attacks on humans are rare.


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About the Author

Jennifer Hollohan is a writer at A-Z Animals, where her primary focus is on gardening, mammals, and travel. Jennifer has over twenty years of writing experience. She holds a Master of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Colorado at Boulder, which she earned in 2005, and is a Herbalist. Jennifer lives in Colorado with her family. She loves hiking, admiring wildflowers, gardening, and making herbal tea.

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