Cougar Count – Have You Seen One?

Photo provided by Valerie on Flickr.

This week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the eastern cougar extinct. That, in and of itself, is no big surprise. The big cat once roamed the eastern forests, including all of the Appalachian range, but the last native cougar is thought to have been trapped by Rosarie Morin in Somerset County, Maine in 1938.

What’s odd is that many scientist now believe that there never was an eastern cougar. The Charleston GazetteThe New York Times and other paper reported this week on the growing consensus that the eastern cougar and the western cougar are exactly the same species. This from The New York Times:

As a result of a genetic study conducted in 2000, most biologists now believe there is no real difference between the Western and Eastern branches of the cougar family.

Others say that the species doesn’t much matter. “They will all look and behave the same way, given a particular environment and variety of prey,” says Virginia-based hunting blogger Jackson Landers. He adds, “In terms of either safety or a desire to restore the old ecology of Virginia with a large, top level carnivorous cat, who the heck cares what subspecies it is?”

Whatever their genetic lineage, people all across the region claim to see these big cats. One Website — Cougar Quest — covering Virginia and West Virginia, has reports on hundreds of sightings, including a few colorful ones:

Clark/Loudon County, Virginia — I was working on the mountain property southwest of Berryville and had a man using a weedeater. He looked up about the same time I did. The mountain lion was very close to my helper who turned white as a sheet and held up the weedeater as if to defend himself. The mountain lion jumped from rock to rock up the hill, seemingly right over my head. It was a beautiful big adult mountain lion, very big with a long, long tail.

Frederick County, Virginia — The first indication that a mountain lion was on my property were the tracks in the snow. Several nights later, the moon was full and, as I looked out the window while getting ready for bed, I saw a panther crossing the field – it looked coal black, midnight black, not tan or tawny. A couple of afternoons after, I glanced out the window to see the panther dragging a deer carcass across the snowy field into the woods.

Hardy County, Virginia — I know that mountain lions survive in the East – I saw one. I was picking berries at the base of a mountain, under a high power line. Hearing a commotion up the mountain, I looked up and saw a large deer racing out of the woods, across the power line field, faster than any race horse I’ve ever seen. A mountain lion was almost on it’s tail and gaining ground, a fluid streak of muscle, long tail straight behind the body, making the cougar appear even bigger than it was. Before I could put down the berry bucket and focus my camera, they had disappeared into the woods on the other side of the field. It looked like a documentary film, only it was real life. A missed photographic opportunity that will never be forgotten.

Frederick County, MD — In March or April of 1995, I was waking from our home to my in-laws’ to return books and movies along the scenic route – through the old logging road which runs the property lines. My three dogs were with me and just as soon as we hit the wooded portion of the property, they started acting strange. The hair on their necks and backs was raised, they would freeze and act like they were scenting something. I did not feel threatened but was getting a little spooked. I heard a noise ahead of me which I thought sounded like my father-in-law using his tractor out in the hay field – like the metal bucket on the tractor scraping against a boulder (there was a very large rock pile boarding the field). I proceeded to the field but saw no sign of my father-in-law or the tractor. All of a sudden the dogs took off and I heard the cougar scream. My initial reaction was to look up. The only time I had ever heard that noise was on TV (Lassie, in particular) and there was ALWAYS a mountain lion in a tree or on a cliff about to jump down on the unsuspecting traveler. Then the dogs burst out of the woods and crossed the path in front of me and into the field. The grass was pretty high and I could see the cougar running away from me towards the “big woods” or where the property ended and several hundred acres of unoccupied property began. I distinctly remember his tail – it seemed to be 8′ long and curled at the very end. He was leaping and running – making tremendous strides in front of the dogs. I was carrying a plastic grocery bag of books and movies AND my camera! The last thing I was thinking was to take a picture. I whistled for my dogs to come and turned around and ran – I think I thought I was running for my life – even though the cat was running in the opposite direction.

Has a cougar crossed your path? Add your story to the cougar count by posting it below.

Also, there’s a lot of debate about where these cats originated. Do you think folks are seeing native eastern cougars, released pets and their descendants, or imaginary cats after consuming the wrong wild forest mushrooms?


  • Anonymous

    I sighted a cougar on the eastern shore of maryland near Allen laying along the edge of the Wicomico Creek.

  • Brandon W

    I live in a small city in western Pa called Altoona. Ilive on the edge of the city and am surrounded by state game lands . On July 11th at 1:30 am I was driving toa local store when a huge animale darted in front of my car. It was a very light tan in color with white under its body. It had a very long tail was about 4 ft long and 2ft tall. Ther are bobcats around here I have seen them before this was 3 times the size of a bobcat. No quetion that waht I saw was a couger.I had my phone with me but was too quick and dark to get a pic of it. Thinking about buying a trail cam to see if I can get a good photo of it

  • Jackie

    I can’t believe what I just saw about a half hour ago, July 19, 2012 also in the Altoona area. I live on Frankstown Mt , my dogs were in the house watching out the window. They both began a frantic bark which they sometimes do for deer or bear which sometime wander through our backyard. When I looked to see what they were barking at , I saw a VERY large cat, and behind it by about 10 feet , another one…. I was able to visually track them for about 1 1/2 minutes , amazed. their fur was very, very dark but we had just finished a deluge of rain and maybe their fur was just wet. I would estimate them to have been about 40 – 50 lbs……I still feel amazed and privileged to have seen WHATEVER they were…..

  • marklynn

    Jackie, that’s so cool. If you caught pics. I’d love to see them. You can email them to revivalist at the revivalist dot info.

  • todd

    Mountain Lion Sightings

    Garrett County MD
    1. Farm near swallow falls state park, large male cougar, Tracked it and caught a glimpse of it before it slinked off into the woods. Tracks were 5-6 in. across, big cat (average print size is 3-4 in.)
    2. New Germany State Park – Staying in a cabin during the week when noone else was there. Watched a lion come out of the woods, -circle the trash and cabin, then return to the woods.

    Harford co. MD
    1. Lion Prints in a snow covered field in northern Harco, near the mason dixon line.
    2. Numerous sightings of friends and others of a large black cat with a long tail. Every report said the cat was dark pr black (cinnamon is the technical color variation = super dark brown that looks black from a distance)

    3. Fire company employee verified sighting one in Jarrettsville MD in 2008

  • Kimberly Alger

    January 10, 2015 live in Cross Junction in Frederick county Virginia, I was driving home tonight from visiting a friend in Star Tannery. I take the back roads home most of the time, wich was the case tonight. As I was driving along rt. 600, less than a quarter of a mile from rt. 50, i saw something cross the road right in front of me and as i got right up beside it i realized it was a big cat either mountain lion or cougar. It hunkered down close to the ground and streached its entire body out and went under a fence and sprinted very quickly off into the field. This thing was very big and long and really fast, with a really long tail. It was really neat to see as I have lived here my entire life, and have spent most of my life hiking and caving, and have never seen anything like that before. I wish i would have stopped and looked for tracks or something but it was around 11:20 at night and I was alone. Maybe I will go back in the morning and have a look.

  • Mark Lynn Ferguson

    Thanks for sharing, Kim. Let us know if you find tracks!

  • Chris

    We are in northern western Frederick Cty Md.

    Coming home late one night with my husband and very young daughter who’d both fallen asleep after a rare day at an amusement park in PA, I came over the little steel bridge in our country road and saw a long, long, tawny tail disappear into the woods.

    Just three years ago my daughter and her fiance were up for Thanksgiving. I went outside after dark with my two dogs and heard blood curdling screams off to the far edge of our 20 acre property/mixed field and woods. Husband came out and heard the sounds too. Went online and pulled up wildlife sounds of various critters and when we listened to cougar sounds we both looked at each other kind of wide-eyed.

    The third incident is kind of hard to describe or explain. I had to go out to the barn one night. As a rule I take out a couple of bright flashlights and headlamp. I shined a light up the hill and saw a pair of yellow eyes which made me freeze. I shut off the light for a moment, then shined the light again/eyes were gone. I remained still, then shined them up the hill again, and there was the eyeshine again. The height of the eyeshine was most troubling to me, rather than its color for I know we have bobcats hereabouts.

    I’m not saying there are cougars here, but from what I understand it well might have been for they are wide-ranging animals. I just know what I saw when that long tail went into the woods some 15 years ago and me at the wheel of our pickup.

    And the huge “screams” my husband and I heard Thanksgiving eve just a few years ago were remarkable…they sent a chill down my spine and made me run back into the house.


  • Heidi

    I Am almost positive I just saw a cougar on the side of 13 about 5 miles after the bridge (CBBT) going towards Cape Charles. It was dark but I saw it’s glowing eyes, and then as I passed, it was the shape of a large cat or dog, but it was the flick of its long tail that made me think that it was definitely feline! (I have five cats at home and know their body language quite well) I thought, that looked like a cougar, but how is that possible, so I did a google search and sure enough I found enough info to realize that I may actually have been right! So crazy!

  • Dee

    5:05am 8/16/15 Hudson Road/Ross Neck Road Cambridge MD 21613 Looking out window, starting the day, and I see something in road under street light that looks odd to me. At first I thought a yellow lab sniffing in the road but it didn’t quite look like a dog and there is a no roam/leash law for dogs and I have never seen a roaming dog in 12 years of living here. Then it walks slowly, sniffing here and there, and proceeds to lie down and start cleaning itself like a cat for a couple minutes then gets up and walks around some more. Was tan, had long tail, definitely not a dog, coyote, or fox. It continued to walk out of the light rays of street light, I’m certain it was a large cat— cougar? exotic released from wealthy Neck District residence or wild? but I am certain it was a cat, with long tail, larger than a good size labrador retriever dog.

  • John kefauver

    I was laying a track training my young shepherd to search ( daughter of 2014 U.S. Working dog champion ) in March, weather clear, snow melting in afternoon, mostly gone. I was camoflouged and out on the track 5 corners and 500 yards laid, when I saw a large animal sitting, maybe 75 yards out on a hill. I froze, my dog was in heat, still in the truck, and I thought it may be a local German shepherd, maybe male, I had seen at a house down the road a few weeks before. I stood still maybe 3 to 5 minutes until it moved. Cat was over 100 lbs, 4 to 5 feet long, tan, with a 3 to 4 foot tail, and walked off into the woods. It had its back to me the whole time, and when it walked away, I saw it was watching a house cat in the weeds. Weeks later I took a pic of a print from the bottom of a 2 foot high pole, two feet high, positioned that the animal had of jumped off the cut off pole. I have bow hunted for 43 years in Maryland, could not believe it myself, so didn’t share it. Told my 85 year old neighbor, and she said she has heard it come through the swamp. Made the poor ladies hair stand up. I have the track photo.

  • Mimi Johnson

    Went out this morning (6:45am) to start my car off if Memorial Drive in Oakland Md…Garrett County…when I walked outside it sounded like a banchee screaming right near the wood line. I came back in to load up kids and dogand dog and as I walked out with them the “screaming” began again and got more intense . I loaded them all up quick and told an outdoorsman about the sound and he said it sounded like a mountain lion….I listened to several animals and it was 100% a mountain lion. EekEeks

  • Butch

    2005, Glade Valley Golf Course, Frederick Md, I had a part time job setting pins on the greens and tee markers before the course opened on weekend mornings. I would often try to get an early morning start before daylight. The maintenance cart was equipped with head lights and almost always served my needs. One Saturday morning around 5:00 AM while tackling the mundane task on the course which is set in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, I spotted in the moonlit fairway what I thought was a coyote or bobcat from a distance coming across the course. I have an interest in wildlife so I turned my Maintenance Cart off and sat in the dark on a ridge watching and trying to Identify the unknown figure. I can only share what I saw and let the experts decide what they may but the body was long, the color couldn’t be identified due to the distance and lack of lighting. I determined the slow pace and movement ruled out a dog. The animal casually almost tiredly slinked across a drainage line from one fairway to another following the lowest part on the horizon. I was able to see the cat like figure move through the dimly lit course for probably 4 or 5 minutes quietly walking. It definitely had the whole shoulder blade movement going on and had a long tail which meandered along behind it like it had its own agenda. I ruled out and determined the figure was much to large to be a bobcat. After making a determination this wasn’t a dog or bobcat, coyote or house cat I was starting to allow my heart to race like I do when a large Buck is nearing my deer stand. The vision of this animal came as close as 100 yards but left as casually as it walked across the drainage area on the course following a fence line across a farm field until I couldn’t follow it any longer. Later in the morning after the sun was up I went to the fence line I watched the animal in and tried to used it for a reference to size the animal. I wanted to look at the height of the fence pole to better determine the size of the figure. I’m guessing 2 1/2 foot tall and approx. 4-5 ft long and a tail that had a life of its own. It’s been 10 years and I still see this encounter clearly. I often regret not looking for tracks.

  • Wright

    Saw large black cat on eastern Maryland maybe moutain,lion could not believe it.

  • Michelle

    I live on the eastern shore of Maryland. I can’t believe I found a site where other people have seen what I saw! About a year ago in standing on my front porch and I had a very large tan cat long tail chasing a racoon through my yard, it climbed up behind where we had our trash cans and spanned the distance with both side by side plus a long tail. I stood there jaw dropped scared to move. We’ve had paw prints found in the snow beside our dog kennel a few years ago. I call the cat chupa since no one else seems to see him at my house but me. So glad I found this page!!!

  • Johnny Lutz

    I thank everyone for posting their data, on their most likely observations of eastern America’s largest feline, commonly known as a “cougar-puma-panther-mountain or American lion”. BACK in 1955, at 15 years of age, I observed my 1st American Lion in Baltimore County’s Loch Raven Reservoir Watershed. When trying to report my observation to a “watershed officer”, he went into total denial, very similar to what wildlife officials continue to this day. In 1970, I began enlisting help from various reliable, men and women with wildlife science backgrounds, I had met over my lifetime, to form an operational base with 1 single objective, checking out ‘big cat sightings’ reported to us, from the mid-Atlantic States of Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia……

  • Rt 15 commuter

    I have been driving through frederick co, md for the past 15 years. About a month ago I saw a large light brows cat slithering thru a grassy area like it was hunting a prey. I believe it was a mountain lion due to the color, size and the way it was moving low to the ground. I could see it from rt15 on the northern side near Thurmont.

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