Mountain lions were fairly common in the Mountain State when early settlers moved into the area, and these cats were most abundant in the Allegheny Mountains. Mountain lions are known by many names, including cougar, catamount, painter, panther, and puma. The numerous Panther Knobs and Panther Runs found across the state provide evidence of this animal’s wide presence and its influence on the minds of early Mountaineers.
The eastern cougar, which occurred in West Virginia, is one of 15 subspecies found in North America. Cougars vary in color from yellow brown to almost gray, but no black cougars have been found in North America. There is little biological data on eastern cougars, but western animals reach a length of eight feet and weigh up to 160 pounds. Males are usually larger than females.
As Europeans settled the wilderness, mountains lions were viewed as a threat to both humans and their livestock. Bounties were offered for dead mountain lions in many areas. In Randolph County, for example, bounties were paid on 73 panthers between 1852 and 1859. Persecution and the loss of habitat effectively extinguished the big cats in West Virginia. According to naturalist A. B. Brooks, ‘‘The last record of a killing of a panther was in 1887 when Col. Cecil Clay and Francis McCoy shot one on Tea Creek, Pocahontas County.’’ In 1936, tracks in the vicinity of Kennison Mountain, Pocahontas County, were reported by workers from the National Museum of Natural History.
Although there are still sightings of mountain lions in the Mountain State, the source of these animals is difficult to determine. Two cougars captured in Pocahontas County in 1976 were western cougars that had been transported there and released. In March 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the eastern cougar extinct, and the agency recommended that it be removed from the endangered species list.
This Article was written by Craig W. Stihler
Last Revised on October 20, 2010
Russell, Kenneth R. "Mountain Lion," in John L. Schmidt & Douglass L. Gilbert, eds, Big Game of North America. Harrisonburg, VA: Stackpole Books, 1978.