For years, Georgians have been reporting sightings of big cats—mountain lions or cougars—but confirming photographic or other evidence never surfaces. However, several recent big cat sightings in Walker County have the attention of WRD and concerned citizens, especially considering that state biologists in western Tennessee have recorded six confirmed cougar sightings since 2015.
Dogwood Circle resident Connie Forester in Walker County said she saw a big feline near her residence on the morning of July 7 not long after 7 a.m. GON talked to Mr. Bob Forester, Connie’s husband, and he confirmed that his wife saw the large tan animal while she was walking. She reported that it was about 6 to 8 feet long.
Bob also explained how they have heard it a couple of times.
“It sounds like a woman crying,” he said.
Bob said two other people have also witnessed the large animal in their neighborhood, and he recounts that his wife said the mountain lion, “was coming from an area where there are two pools.”
He believes since they are in a drought that the mountain lion might be looking for water.
Adam Hammond, a WRD wildlife biologist, said he traveled yesterday (July 12) to where the sighting was to see if he could get any more information. The only tracks he found were from deer, bobcat and raccoon.
Hammond said his state wildlife agency counterparts in east Tennessee haven’t heard any reports of a mountain lion in that area of the state. If the rumors of a big cat show up to be true, Hammond says, “The most likely explanation would be a captive release or an illegally held mountain lion.”
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has confirmed six sightings in 2015, but those sightings were in the western portion of the state, not in east Tennessee near the Georgia line. Humphreys County—the Tennessee county closest to Georgia that recorded sightings—is where four of those confirmed cougar sightings occurred. The distance from Humphreys County, Tennessee to Walker County, Georgia is about 200 miles.
One of the confirmed Tennessee cougars came in September, 2015 from trail camera pictures taken by Austin Burton on his camera that he had set up in Humphreys County, Tenn. The mountain lion was smelling deer scent Austin had put out.
These animals can travel hundreds of miles, and with recent drought conditions in the northwest part of the state, the speculation from Bob Forester and his neighbors that the drought has them on the move more.
Hammond added that, “There was one shot by a hunter in Tennessee in 2015 that was genetically traced from South Dakota.”
In 2008, a cougar was shot in Troup County, Georgia that was genetically traced to the Florida panther populations in south Florida. Initially, Georgia DNR said that cat was likely pen-reared illegally and either escaped or was released. After genetic testing proved the cougar to be a Florida panther, the hunter was charged and fined $2,000 for killing a species listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The distance from south Florida where panthers live to Troup County, Georgia is about 550 miles.
GON received a WRD release on July 12 stating, “To date, no credible, physical evidence has been found to substantiate the existence of a population of mountain lions in Georgia.”