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Cougars are considered extinct in North Carolina, but a few dozen people came forward on Facebook over the weekend to say they’re still seeing them in North Carolina, no matter what the experts say.
It started Saturday, when a chef in Morganton sheepishly admitted on a Facebook page devoted to Bigfoot research that he believes he saw a cougar -- also known as a mountain lion -- near the incorporated community of Nebo in western North Carolina.
“I know I’ll catch some flack for this,” posted Billy Hensley on Saturday. “But I will swear this to my grave: I have seen a cougar not once but twice in Nebo in the past month or so.”
Instead of being mocked, Hensley’s post was met with comment after comment from people who say they’ve also seen what they believed is a cougar in the region. Many were defensive, too, knowing they’ll be accused of misidentifying a bobcat as a cougar.
“Billy, we jumped one at Lake James one night on expedition,” posted John Bruner. “It was huge and had a tail 3 feet long. It was not a bobcat.”
“I’ve seen one about a half mile from my house in Green Mountain - which is in Yancey County,” posted Kim Owens-Mayhew on Facebook. “Definitely a cougar, like you saw...I’ve seen bobcats too and they’re not even close to the same size, length, and of course the tails are different.”
“I think it’s condescending and dismissive when wildlife biologists or whoever say that they aren’t around when people obviously are seeing them,” wrote Tiffinay Al-Maqtari on Facebook. “There was one outside of my son’s school once and all the kids saw it. They are just incredibly elusive.”
N.C. Wildlife Resources officials told the Charlotte Observer that Eastern Cougars are an extinct species of large cat that is now only found in part of Florida. At full size, males are an unmissable 6-to-8-feet long and can weigh 150 pounds, say state officials.
“There are no known cougars in North Carolina,” Jodie Owens of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission told the Observer. “We get lots of reports every year from folks who think they’ve seen a cougar. Usually, it’s a house cat, bobcat, coyote, even dogs or black bears that have been misidentified as cougars.”
North Carolina state biologist Brad Howard said in a report that we would have stronger evidence if the large cats were still living in the state.
“At some point in time over the last 100 years, a cat would have been hit by a car, shot by someone or otherwise documented coming into the state,” Howard wrote. “So, while the stories are fun and the legends are as old as our state, the legendary cat of the mountains and the swamps is just that, a legend.”
Still, reported sightings persist, as indicated by response to Billy Hensley’s Facebook post.
He told the Charlotte Observer he had gotten off from work in Morganton and was driving through Nebo near neighboring McDowell County when he saw what looked like a cougar “jump across the road” 75 yards in front of his vehicle.
“I was stunned but knew what I saw wasn’t a dog or anything else for that matter,” he told the Observer, adding that he was surprised at the response to his admission.
“It’s amazing how many people came out of the wood work to tell about their sightings.”