The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is adding confirmed cougar sightings to a new online map. The TWRA Cougar Action Team, or C-A-T, is an in-house committee working to organize evidence submitted by the public and developing a policy for dealing with this subspecies of cougar, which is not native to Tennessee.
The first confirmed sighting in more than 100 years was in Obion County last September.
Tennessee Wildlife Biologist Joy Sweaney says cougars are secretive animals and aren't typically a threat to humans. If you do encounter one, she recommends acting like 'the hardest prey to kill' and they will leave you alone.
DNA samples from hair found in the Carroll County location identified the animal as a western cougar subspecies similar to those found in South Dakota. She says there is possibly more than one cougar in Tennessee, expanding out from their home range. Western cougars have a range of 150 square miles and while it's rare to spot one, they are more commonly found in the Midwestern states.
The eastern cougar, once a native species of Tennessee, was declared extinct in 2011.
Sweaney says they are developing a strategy for the unlikely scenario one of these cougars is captured, which may include relocating them to a 'tiger haven' facility equipped to care for the animal.
Cougar or a Bobcat?
Many of the photos submitted to the wildlife agency have turned out to be bobcats and not cougars. While bobcats may also be rare finds due to their stealthy nature, they are native to Tennessee. Sweaney says there are some notable differences between bobcats and cougars:
- Size: Bobcats usually weigh about 40 pounds, half the size of a cougar.
- Coloring: Bobcats can be spotted or striped whereas cougars are a single color.
- Tail: A bobcat's tail is 4-6 inches and a cougar's tail is 20-30 inches with a black tip.
- Ears: Bobcats have pointed ears and cougars have rounded ears.