Photo is not an alabama mountain lion, but one photographed in south Florida.

Are There Mountain Lions in Alabama? [Answered]

Last Updated on September 11, 2022 by Brian Grossman

Are there mountain lions in Alabama? That’s a question that has been debated for decades and continues to be debated today. The short answer is, probably not. While mountain lions — or Florida panthers as they are now referred to in the east — once lived across the southeastern U.S., there hasn’t been a documented sighting in Alabama in decades.

Let’s take a look at the differences between panthers, cougars, and mountain lions, and why it’s unlikely you’ll come across any of them here in Alabama.

Panther, Cougar, or Mountain Lion?

Technically, the term panther refers to big cats in the Panthera genus, which includes tigers, lions, jaguars, and leopards. However, those are not the big cats we are talking about in this case. None of those exist anywhere near Alabama, and only the jaguar could possibly be found in the United States. Even that is highly unlikely, though.

What most people are referring to when they talk about someone seeing a panther in Alabama, is the cougar, or mountain lion — Puma concolor. When most people think of mountain lions, they think of the big cats of western states like Colorado, Wyoming or Idaho, but there is an established population of these big cats in South Florida, which are often referred to as Florida panthers, despite the fact they are not true panthers.

Florida panthers once ranged from the southern tip of Florida north through Georgia and as far west as Louisiana and Arkansas. Overhunting in the 1800 and 1900s ultimately wiped them out across all but a small portion of their original range. Today the only place they are found is in the southwestern tip of Florida. Sadly, it’s estimated there are only 120 to 130 Florida panthers left in the wild.

So, Are There Florida Panthers in Alabama?

As I mentioned above, there are no resident mountain lions or Florida panthers in Alabama. That’s not to say it’s out of the realm of possibility for someone to see one in Alabama, but it would be an extremely rare occurrence. Here’s what the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources had to say about the possibility.

“We get a lot of photos sent to us of animals that people suspect are mountain lions. Although mountain lions have not been documented in Alabama for a number of decades, we are eager to see any real evidence of them since they are found in some neighboring states. Most pictures we are sent are domestic cats or bobcats, and others are foxes, coyotes, domestic dogs, and even raccoons. We are very interested in being able to document this species, so in a case where there is any question what we are looking at, we investigate.”

So the take-home here is that it’s possible to see a Florida panther in Alabama, but extremely unlikely. If there were resident panthers living here, there would be credible evidence, such as a good trail camera photos, cell phone videos, or roadkill.

Photo of a black jaguar to show there are no black pathers in Georgia.
An extremely rare melanistic South American jaguar. Definitely NOT found in Alabama.

Are There Black Panthers in Alabama?

This one is easy to answer. No, there are no black panthers in Alabama.

We’ve established that it would be possible to see a Florida panther in Alabama, but there’s never been a documented black (melanistic) mountain lion or Florida panther. NEVER. The only two large cats in the world that exhibit melanism are African leopards and South American jaguars. Neither of those would be found anywhere near Alabama unless it was an escaped pet. And even in leopards and jaguars, the melanistic phase is very rare. Probably less than 5% of leopards or jaguars are black.

If There Aren’t Panthers in Alabama, What Did I See?

Most mountain lion sightings in Alabama are simply cases of mistaken identity. And ANY sighting of a black panther is mistaken identity. I can’t tell you how many trail cam photos I’ve seen posted of house cats or bobcats that someone was convinced was a panther. I even had to investigate a black panther sighting when I worked for the Georgia DNR. The tracks the guy showed me were actually multiple deer tracks, the tree scratching he was convinced was done by the panther was woodpecker damage, and the panther scat he collected was from a coyote. I have no idea what he actually saw, but I know it wasn’t a black panther.

In most cases, it’s likely either a house cat that appeared larger than it actually was, a bobcat, or in many cases a domestic dog.

Photo of Florida Panther kittens taken in South Florida.
Florida Panther kittens in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.

Summary

There are ongoing efforts to study and restore the Florida Panther population in South Florida. If that’s successful, then who knows. I may live to see my first mountain lion in Alabama. Stranger things have happened. But for now, the chance of seeing a cougar here in Alabama is slim to none. If you’re convinced they’re out there, all I can say, is keep your trail camera batteries fresh and your cell phone handy. We need better proof than a house cat photo.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about panthers in Alabama in the comments section below.

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