Proving the existence of “ghost cats”

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Over the last 100 years there have been 64 confirmed sightings of mountain lions in the eastern United States (outside of Florida), according to Mark McCollough, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist. One of those was a cougar kitten that was hit by a truck in Kentucky in 1997.

Wildlife experts think most of these “ghost cats” were either escaped pets or migrants from the west. Native populations have never been confirmed.

However, for the last several years, residents of Blackstone, Virginia have reported several cougar sightings around town and in the neighboring 41,000-acre Army National Guard training base. There have been at least 15 sightings since 2003, even though mountain lions have officially been considered extirpated from the East since 1900 (excluding Florida, which has an isolated subspecies population of about 100).

Despite a few recent unconfirmed reports, the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory study in the Smoky Mountains has yet to find any evidence of the big cat in the park. Hundreds of motion-activated cameras dot the Smoky Mountains, 600 miles of the Appalachian Trail, and other forested areas throughout the East. There have been hundreds of photos of bears, deer and other critters, but no cougars.

Despite all the naysayers, the town of Blackstone is out to prove the existence of the elusive cat. The town has set up a handful of cameras in the surrounding area with the hope of getting proof. Blackstone animal control officials and volunteers also plan to contribute by setting up patrols and other methods of detection.

Whether proof is found or not, it’s unlikely the results will calm the nerves of some of the residents in this small eastern Virginia town.

Jeff Detailed information on trails in the Smoky Mountains; includes trail descriptions, key features, pictures, video, maps, elevation profiles, news, hiking gear store, and more.


smoky scout said...

My hometown is just a few miles from Blackstone, VA, and it is a very rural area, but I admit I never saw any big cats around there.

However, I went hiking in a state park near San Francisco in January 2008, and in a very open area we saw a mountain lion on top of a hill, sizing us up versus the lone deer on the next hilltop. He just sat and calmly watched us - very spooky. Our local friends with us had not seen a mountain lion in over 20 years of hiking in the area.

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

Smoky Scout - welcome back! (assuming you're back).

I have never seen a mtn lion either. I definitely would like to, but only with at least one other person present....

Anonymous said...

Great Post Jeff!
We sometimes see the tracks of these beautiful cats up here...
I have only sighted one in all my years and that was such an amazing experience...