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Florida Panthers in South Georgia? Videos Included!

When I was a little kid, my grandparents lived in the tiny hamlet of Irwinville, Georgia. Granny and Papa, like their neighbors, were farmers. Just about everyone in the area kept chickens and a few cows and pigs. Most of them also grew corn and other row crops.

The Alapaha River and its swamp were very near my grandparents’ place. I remember Granny telling my mom that one of her neighbors had shot a panther that was attacking one of his calves. Papa and the other men all went to see the body of the slain cat.

When I heard this, I pictured a black panther – you know, a melanistic jaguar. I was too young to realize that jaguars didn’t inhabit South Georgia. The only “panthers” I’d ever seen were on Walt Disney movies, and they were all black. It wasn’t until years later that I realized the animal that my grandparents’ neighbor had shot had to have been a Florida panther.

About fifteen years ago, my husband, Johnny, and I purchased a mini-farm in Cook County, Georgia. My two youngest daughters and I were very into horses, and we wanted to have our equine in our back yard, so to speak. Before buying the land, we boarded them at a local stable.

My dad had warned Johnny that if he wasn’t careful, I’d have a zoo. Johnny wasn’t careful, and I had a zoo: four dogs, twelve cats, five horses, fish, goats, a bull, ducks, rabbits, and chickens. It was great! We lived on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere and were surrounded by woods, fields, ponds, and creeks. Our closest neighbors were a half-mile away.

We hadn’t been in our new country home very long before Johnny heard a strange sound one night, coming from the woods behind the house. He got me to join him outside for a listen. It sounded exactly like a baby screaming. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. What would a baby be doing in the woods? We had no idea what the sound was, and we had no idea of what to do. Should we call the local sheriff? Surely it was some animal. But what if it really was a baby, and we took no action to save it? We decided to call our neighbor.

Our neighbor was Ricky Pierce. He had befriended us immediately upon our move and had been very helpful. He was about my age, and we really hit it off. Ricky plowed our garden and planted rye and millet for the horses whenever we asked him to. I think we would have been totally lost without him - at least for that first year or two.

Rick probably lived about a half a mile away, as the crow flies. We called Ricky, and he assured us that what we were hearing was a panther. He heard them often, and he told us they sounded just like a baby or a woman screaming.

A panther? There were panthers around here? Johnny and I were skeptical. Maybe it was a bobcat we’d heard.

I saw Rick a couple of days later and asked him about these “panthers.” Did he mean bobcat, I asked? No, he meant panther. Mountain lion. Puma. Painter. Catamount. A large predator that was a heck of a lot bigger than a bobcat. Had he ever actually seen one of these panthers, I asked? He assured me that he had seen them several times, and that he knew there was more than one because early one morning, he had seen two of them together. He described them as being about two and a half feet tall and goldish-tan, with long tails.

I was still just a bit skeptical. I knew Ricky had no reason to make up such a tale, but I wondered if it wasn’t a case of mistaken identity. Maybe he had observed two big yellow dogs on a foggy morning and thought they were pumas. I was soon made a believer, however.

A couple of months later, Johnny heard a terrible ruckus down at the barn one afternoon. He started down that way to see what was going on when he was stopped dead in his tracks. A huge cat was walking out from under the barn with a chicken in its mouth. It stopped for a second, turned and looked at Johnny, then trotted off toward the creek.

Johnny ran inside and grabbed the shotgun. He was obviously shaken.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I just saw one of those panthers at the barn! It stole a chicken!”

“You can’t kill it – they’re endangered!”

I finally talked Johnny into putting the gun away, and I asked him to explain exactly what he’d seen. He described the critter the same way Ricky had described the ones he’d seen. I was still just a tiny bit skeptical. With gun in hand for protection, we went down to the barn to look for paw prints. And we found some. They were huge! Now I was totally convinced. There’s no way a bobcat could have made such prints.

Ever the investigator, I came in and called Game and Fish. They gave me the number of a guy to call, and I got in touch with him immediately. He explained that several years earlier, several Florida panthers fitted with radio collars had been released into the Okefenokee Swamp as an experiment. All the animals were supposed to have been neutered.

A couple of years later, all the animals were located and removed. There was just one little problem – they had found a dead cub. Obviously, all panthers hadn’t been sterile, after all! And since these cats have a wide range, that explains how some could have ended up in our area.

I finally got to see one for myself. One evening, Johnny and I were sitting in the backyard. It was late evening, in what the Scots refer to as the gloaming. I saw movement out of the corner of my eye at the edge of the field, so I whipped my head around in that direction. A large tan panther was slinking across a corner of the field. He entered the woods and disappeared.

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Wow. This sighting was concrete proof for me! I had finally seen one of these creatures with my own eyes! As a result, my interest in the big cat was piqued, so I began researching.

The Florida panther is actually a puma. They stand from 24-30 inches tall at the withers and can weigh as much as 140 pounds. Males measure about seven feet from nose to tip of tail, while females are a little smaller. The animals can live as long as fifteen years.

These big cats once roamed the entire Southeast, but now they’re restricted mostly to South Florida. In fact, that’s where you’ll find the only breeding population of Florida panthers. It’s estimated that there are only about 70-100 left, after the population was slaughtered over the preceding centuries by farmers and hunters and their natural habitat has been largely destroyed.

A male’s range in his home territory can be 200 square miles or more. Young adult males that are looking to establish their own territory, however, will travel much farther.

Florida panthers are opportunistic carnivores. They typically hunt between dusk and dawn, for whitetail deer, raccoons, coyotes, opossums, armadillos, rabbits, and even small alligators. The big cats will also take livestock and family pets if the opportunity presents itself.

The panthers are very adaptable. They can survive in a wide range of habitats, including swampland, scrub forests, and tidal regions.

In 1967, the species was listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Some conservationists are making efforts to re-establish the panthers in other areas, but this is being met with resistance by farmers and ranchers, who see the cats as a threat to their livestock.

For years, the range of the Florida panther has been disputed. Claims by South Georgians about local sightings were often scoffed at, but last year, the definitive evidence was undeniable. A panther was killed by a deer hunter in Troupe County, Georgia, and its DNA was studied. Some wildlife experts thought the cat was a puma that had escaped from a zoo or preserve and not a Florida panther at all. The DNA, however, matched the genetic material of the other panthers in South Florida. Evidently, this young male had traveled hundreds of miles in order to establish his own territory.

A Florida panther in the wild.

A Florida panther in the wild.


Wendi on August 12, 2013:

I live in Bryceville, Florida - a short way south of the Okefenokee on the Florida side of the St. Mary's River. This past Saturday night at dusk, I was walking back to the house after feeding my horses when I heard a panther just a few yards from me. This one sounded like a toddler pitching a temper tantrum. There were no other people around and my dog and two cats who were walking with me froze and wouldn't move a muscle. The cat made noise for about 10 minutes and the entire time nothing else made a sound - no crickets, no birds, no frogs, nothing.

It kind of shocked me because it has been about 5 years since I have heard one in the area and never that close to the house. It used to be that several times a year I would hear them (or one) sounding like a woman crying/screaming over by the river in the middle of the night (midnight to 3am) when I would take the dogs out for a potty break.

The horses didn't react. Makes me wonder if it has been around for a while and I am just realizing it. My one dog used to make me let her out twice a night and she would run the yard and not want to come back in to let me go back to bed. Over this summer, she has only wanted to go out about once a night and then only to stand right out the back door with her nose in the air. She would only go in the yard if I went first and then she wouldn't leave me. I was figuring a bobcat had bothered her, but, she's bigger than a bobcat and pretty feisty. I can see where a panther would make her out of sorts.

I love that this cat is passing thru or making a home. There are a lot of coyotes, deer, and other wildlife around me. As long as he can be content to stick to the wild game and not try to make a meal of my dog or cats (which stay inside at night and outside while I'm at work), he is a welcomed neighbor.

JayB61 on February 23, 2013:

Interesting story. A couple of points I would like to make. First off the panters used in the experiment along the Suwanee River were cougars from Texas, a couple were killed by poachers near Waycross. I have no doubt that some younger males dispersing from south Fla. have made their way to south GA, like the one killed near Westpoint GA. I do know that some of the cats used in the study did have young much to the study group's displeasure. The researchers actually accidently killed the cub you mentioned, they did not just find it. They darted it in a tree and it fell into water and drowned before they could get to it.

As for seeing black panthers, I have a very big problem with that, simply because in the history of post columbian western hemisphere there has never, NEVER, been a single documented case of a melenistic cougar, anywhere in their range, from the Yukon to Patagonia. What most people are seeing are black colored southern coyotes (which are not uncommon) and will grow to be 60 or more pounds or black bears. All states in the east at one time or other had bounties on cougars/panthers and there are no records of a black one ever being harvested. Panthers have the largest home range of any other animal in the western hemisphere (along with jaguars) with it not being uncommon for a male to have a range of 200 sq. miles. Because of this large range, young males tend to disperse far from home because mature males account for the largest portion of young panther deaths, they will kill any young male they encounter in their territory.

I have no doubt that the sightings of the individuals in south GA might be real, they would most likely be of young dispersing males looking for a territory that has prey and females, unforutnately finding a female is the problem. Females do not disperse far from where they were born and that is the problem. A males home range will conatin the range of numerous females and they tend to inbreed some what. That is the reason for the importing of some females from Texas a number of years ago, to give genetic diversity.

As for panthers being released by game agencies, that hasn't happened in the southeast. The florida panther is endangered and it literally not only takes an act of congress, there are numerous other loopholes to jump through (think the wolves in yellowstone).

billybobbojack on April 20, 2012:

I have lived in the Tallahassee area (north Florida) my whole life and have seen and heard panthers quiet a few times. There's a lot more of them than the 160 FWC claims.

Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on January 21, 2012:

Oh I've heard that noise you refer to over here in North East Texas.

I describe it more as...the sound of a woman or child being murdered in the woods - it scares the crap out of me every time I hear it too.

Of course the Florida Panther is a totally unique sub species of mountain lion. I doubt it's much different from the "regular" North American Cougar, but heck, that cat could be over yonder in your area too.

At one time the Cougars were either the Florida one which was already extremely rare and endangered....or the "common" one that was mostly found in California....but that cat species has pretty much marched itself East across the whole country now.

Last year during the drought there was one just waling around in down town El Paso.

I sometimes ride my bicycle late at night or early in the morning....if I hear that sound, WHEW! I might just fall over.

Jmss1 on January 04, 2012:

I just went outside to see the metoers and I saw a huge thing in the front yard and it looked like a big tan cat I think I saw a panther or something at first I thought it was an alien lol I got my dog and I ran inside I guess I wont be seeing any flying rock outside lol ....I just googled "Panthers in South Georgia" I saw a picture and almost peed in my pants it looked exacly the same BE CAREFUL OUTSIDE AT NIGHT TIME!!!!!It stared at me like I was a chicken leg :,(

Victoria A. on November 16, 2011:

I have been born and raised here in Florida. And I have seen and heard more Florida panthers in my life time than I can even remember. They are breath taking and beautiful. But they are hell on your livestock. I hope and pray something is done to regenerate the population of them. It is so sad to think of how they are becoming extinct.

RKII5151 on October 06, 2011:

I have a picture of a cat with a cub it is carrying from one of my game camereas that was take on 9/6/2011 at 4:14 am on our property in Stewart County Georgia. How can I upload this picture?

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on September 05, 2011:

Two items off the top. Yep, Black-coated some of them; just like Warren said and at least three comments on here reporting Black Panthers. habee, the only reason that makes any since as to why "officialdom" doesn't want to admit to the reality and have now declared them(out-side of the 'glades & out West) extinct is because of the funding for protection etc etc that would be incurred. Can't say I blame them in the current situation. Yeah, when a panther emerges from under the barn with a chicken in it's mouth and you see the print size all doubt ceases; just like when I found that track. 'The panthers are very adaptable' is an understatement in my opinion. habee, its a good bet the one at the barn and the one you saw weren't the progeny of any swamp experiment but have been around in diminished numbers all along. Thank you so much for letting me know about your story. If you don't mind I'd like to mention or link this to the N.C. Hub when I hear from you if its OK.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on July 07, 2011:

Hi, Janell! They're definitely in GA!

Janell on April 17, 2011:

I saw a black panther off I 16 in laurens co about a year ago. It was huge about 4:pm in a horse pastue. Horses were scared.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on September 28, 2010:

David, I know there are panthers in GA - I saw one! The one I saw was light brown.

DavidH on September 28, 2010:

Sorry my typing is not that great, but the story is true, and the witness from the helicopter is credible....obviously the story reported is a bit different from what Johnny told me, but, who would you believe, the truth from a participant and witness, or the press release?

DavidH on September 28, 2010:

I have also stopped and found, on I-475, a cougar, basically a light colored panther....It scared me to death as it was only about 10 miles from my house...Weight was abt 40-50 lbs, much bigger than whatt sceptics call a cat.

DavidH on September 28, 2010:

I have also stopped and found, on I-475, a cougar, basically a light colored panther....It scared me to death as it was only about 10 miles from my house...Weight was abt 50 lbs, much bigger than what sceptics call a cat.

DavidH on September 28, 2010:

You think my story is not real?

DavidH on September 28, 2010:

About 4 years ago, there were a few immigrants who were illegal and involved in an accident here in Macon, GA. I was friends with the local EMA director and the search for these men centered around the swampy area near the Ocmulgee River, (south of the Indian Mounds, and and on the other side of I-75)...Johnny told me that they got all of their searchers out of the area, when while in a helicopter, they spotted a black panther with 2 cubs. They danger to the searchers from a protective mother panther was enough to discontinue the search.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on September 24, 2010:

I was just in Mayport yesterday! There are a lot more panthers around here than the DNR will admit.

jfgann66 on September 22, 2010:

I was on watch while in the Navy and saw one chasing a racoon through the trees in Mayport Fl. Mayport is way north to where they are suspose to be. I have seen livestock in Ga. and Ala. that were definitely not killed by coyotees but that's what the DNR said. also we heard the screams at night too.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 28, 2010:

Hi, Tiffany! Glad you stopped by!

Tiffany a. on August 28, 2010:

I live in Florida. ..tonight I had a scare of a life time!!! I just now found out that panthers scream like a baby.thank God I didn't go try to find it!!! Oh and btw we DO have black panthers I have seen them over the years deep in the woods!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on March 26, 2010:

Mine has been sick, too - to the tune of $280!

Ricky on March 25, 2010:

My puter is still acting up, so it may take a while to get through everything.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on March 23, 2010:

Wow, Ricky! It's great to see you here!!

Ricky on March 23, 2010:

Will you think I'm lying to you next time. From what I can figure, there are from 3-5 in our area. Some are brown and two are black.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on March 21, 2010:

Yep, Michael, they're here!

Michael Shane from Gadsden, Alabama on March 20, 2010:

Yikes! I've heard they have worked their way to parts of Georgia & Alabama.....

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on February 18, 2010:

Wow! You've been lucky to catch so many glimpses of these elusive creatures. I think you're 100% correct about their ranges! Thanks for reading!

Sue on February 18, 2010:

I live in a rural development in south GA (Berrien County) which is next door to your county.

I have on several occassions seen panthers during the 20 plus yrs I lived in FL.

I was totally taken aback this past December to see a panther standing on my carport here.

Locals say that someone imported some from Texas to raise and a few had escaped from the eight foot fence they thought would keep them in.

I believe the range and the population of these cats is bigger than what officials believe. Here I live on the edge of Banks Wildlife Management Area. In FL I lived on the edge of the Green Swamp which is in central FL.

Panthers were there. I have seen them down in the Everglades driving at night between Miami and Ft. Myers. several times.

A couple years ago I saw dead on I75 near Ocala (which has the national forest.)

They are beautiful animals and I admire them for their stealth and I feel blessed to have seen so many in my lifetime. I hope that as time goes on more people can say the same.

I don't however want to be on their wrongside!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on February 11, 2010:

Thanks, Ateenyi! Glad you enjoyed the hub!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on February 11, 2010:

Naomi, I've heard rumors of that but didn't know if it was true or not. Thanks for sharing!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on February 11, 2010:

RCollins, you live in a gorgeous area! There are a lot more FL panthers in GA than the state wants to admit!

Thanks for reading!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on February 11, 2010:

Tams, I'll bet there are some in Miss. Be careful!

ateenyi from Chicago on February 11, 2010:

Great Hub!!!!!!!

The wild animals have got great magnetic attraction of its own. The photographs displayed are sparklingly beautiful. The big cats are always the centre of attraction for everyone. These big cats once roamed the entire Southeast, but now they’re restricted mostly to South Florida. This article can be regarded as one of the most intriguing article.

Naomi R. Cox from Elberton, Georgia on February 10, 2010:

R. Collins, The cats you see probable are cougars. Not many people know this but Wild Game Management have been placing pairs of cougars in the wild to control the deer population. There were 2 sets turned loose in Elbert Co. and 2 pairs in Hart Co. So it wouldn't surprise me if there hasn't been some turned loose there also.

R. Collins on February 09, 2010:

My husband and I have had 3 separate sightings here on our property in Habersham County,GA over the last 3 years.The most recent was about a month ago.The cat is larger than a big dog and light colored.Our friend was looking for deer markings and found the cougars prints on the backside of our garden site.

Tammy Lochmann on February 09, 2010:

Wow interesting...they say there are panthers in Miss too.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on February 09, 2010:

Maita, I have mixed feelings about re-introducing them in the wild. In some places, the deer population is getting out of hand, so maybe a few panthers could help control it.

prettydarkhorse from US on February 09, 2010:

endangered oh habee, they could be fun, but of course they wreak havoc on livestock, beautiful piece of creature, I dont think I have seen a panther yet, Thanks, Maita

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on February 09, 2010:

Thanks, MPG, for reading and commenting!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on February 09, 2010:

Wow, Naomi, that's spooky! Glad you shared that info.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on February 09, 2010:

Yes, Ehern. I had much rather admire them from a distance!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on February 09, 2010:

SEO, I don't think we know what all might be in the woods and forests!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on February 09, 2010:

Yep, Randy, the DNR sure had to eat their words after the Troupe Co. incident!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on February 09, 2010:

Thanks, Janie. Me too!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on February 09, 2010:

Hi, Nancy. where was that?

Maria Giunta from Sydney, Australia on February 08, 2010:

You are a prolific writer! As city slickers we wouldn't know what its like to live on a farm, let alone see a panther! I do love most animals but don't know how I'd feel seeing one of these cats. Great story.

Naomi R. Cox from Elberton, Georgia on February 08, 2010:

I haven't ever seen a Florida Panther but we had Black Panthers that lived at the Mica Mine behind our house when I was young. I saw them once, a male, a female and two cubs. Those slick black cats made the hair rise on the back of my neck. At night sometimes you could hear them scream and it did sound like a women screaming. We might have played in those woods durning the day, cause most animals around would hear us coming and they'd clear out, but we stayed close to house when it started getting dark.

This is a great hub. I liked and rated it. Thanks for sharing it with us. Keep up the good work!

ehern33 on February 08, 2010:

Excellent story and didn't know they could they were found in Georgia. The are beautiful animals but I guess at a distance. LOL Where I live we have bears, deer, bobcats, fox and much more, but never seen a panther yet.

Karla Domanski from Cadillac, Michigan on February 07, 2010:

I live in Michigan where there are bobcats, but supposedly no panthers. Still, after my nephew claimed to have seen one, his father went out and looked for tracks. He found HUGE cat tracks-- bigger than those left by bobcats, crossing the road and headed into the woods, right where my nephew said he'd seen it. They asked the DNR about it, but were pretty much laughed away. As far as I know, they never investigated. Either it was one humongous bobcat or there IS a panther (cougar, puma...) on the prowl around here. Anyway, great hub. I love reading about wildlife -- especially when the report is that animals are being seen rather than being obliterated. :)

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on February 07, 2010:

I have seen panthers on a number of occasions in this area of Georgia. Like Ricky, three of us saw a pair of panthers crossing the dirt road by my house. Two years ago several people witnessed a panther on the land behind my home.

It has always been funny when the DNR said no proven cases of panthers have been reported to the dept. Until the Troupe county incident, of course.

Kind of makes one think when going to and from a deer stand in the woods.

Mary Krenz from Florida's Space Coast on February 07, 2010:

excellent hub. I love cats of all kinds. I am glad that we are trying out new habitats for them.

nancy_30 from Georgia on February 07, 2010:

Great hub Habee. I've never seen a panther before. My aunt use to tell me stories of them. She said one day her and her sister was walking home from a neighbors house when they heard something like a woman screaming. She said it scared them to death and they ran all the way home.

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