RETURN of the
By R o b e r t R e h d e r
Is the big cat extinct? Not according to reported local sightings.
IT was just another day for Don Cook and Steve Parrish, scientists at the
Brunswick Nuclear Plant’s biology lab near Southport. They were in a
company truck, returning from the boat harbor with marine samples, when
suddenly they were met with something entirely unexpected. From the dense
forest ahead, a huge cat streaked from the wood’s edge and leaped in one
great stride across the road in front of their truck.
“It was a large, tan cat with a long tail, crouched low as if stalking,
crossing the road from left to right just in front of us,” Cook says. “I
distinctly remember seeing the shoulder muscles ripple as it leapt off
toward the discharge canal of the plant. I’ve seen plenty of bobcats,
deer, bear, and coyotes, but what we saw that afternoon was a
They’re called panthers, pumas, painters and cougars depending on
who you talk to, and they are extinct in North Carolina. But wait, are
they really gone? Not according to a number of North Carolina veteran
outdoorsmen, like Cook and Parrish, who each year attest to seeing
the big cats.
Wildlife biologists say that these reports can be attributed
to mistaken identity — someone perhaps seeing a large
bobcat. Just a minute, say people who have seen a cougar.
Unlike our native bobcats that on average weigh
20 pounds and have short “bobbed” tails, adult
cougars are unmistakably large cats some
6 feet in length and weighing up to
200 pounds. Outdoorsmen like Cook
say it would be impossible to mistake
a panther for a bobcat or other animal
because its tail and elongated body make
it radically different in appearance.
In his book Panthers of the Coastal Plains, published in 1994,
Charles R. “Buster” Humphries recorded 167 sighting of panthers
in a 40-mile range of Wilmington. Could 167 people all be mistaken?
34 october 2021