Trail cam photo of a Florida panther at the Florida Panther NWR.

Are There Panthers in Georgia? [Answered]

Last Updated on September 11, 2022 by Brian Grossman

Are there panthers in Georgia? That’s a question that has been debated for decades and continues to be debated today. The short answer is, probably not. But before we dive into why that is, we first have to work through a few points that often cause confusion in this debate.

First, we need to clear up what exactly we are referring to when we say “panther.”

And second, we need to know what color “panther” are we talking about?

What is a panther?

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 Georgia, 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 Georgia, is the cougar, or mountain lion — Puma concolor. When most people think of mountain lions, they think of western states, but there is an established population of these big cats in South Florida, which are often referred to as Florida 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 Georgia?

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

“In the last 25 years, there have been only three credible mountain lion sightings in Georgia. These animals were all related to the Florida panther. The most recent and well-known situation involved a hunter in LaGrange, GA (Troup County) in 2008 who shot and killed a mountain lion while deer hunting. The large cat was later genetically shown to be a federally endangered Florida panther. The hunter was charged with a federal wildlife violation and sentenced to a $2,000 fine, 2-years probation, and was prohibited from obtaining a hunting license anywhere in the United States during the probation.”

Georgia DNR

So the take-home here is that it’s possible to see a Florida panther in Georgia, 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 Georgia.

Are There Black Panthers in Georgia?

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

We’ve established that it would be possible to see a Florida panther in Georgia, 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 Georgia 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 Georgia, What Did I See?

Most mountain lion sightings in Georgia 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 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 here in Georgia. Stranger things have happened. But for now, the chance of seeing a panther here in Georgia 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 Georgia in the comments section below.

4 thoughts on “Are There Panthers in Georgia? [Answered]”

  1. Back in the spring of 2004 at about 7:20 am on my way to work one morning, a cougar/panther crossed Hwy 24, 5 miles south of Wanyesboro GA. The body including the tail was about the same width as one lane of the Highway. It made one leap during its stride from one side to the other side. I had nearly come to a stop as I watched it trot into the woods just below the church along the creek. I know what I saw, IDGAF what DNR says.

  2. ga dnr sometimes seems not to know what is happening . i worked out at union carbide in the last part of 1969 and early 70 and saw one outside the fence along deep creek to curve around from fronte gate at U.C. and i was not the only one who saw that cat and it was black or wet looking each time it was seen as we talked abpout seeing this cat nemerous time . in middle 70;s i worked for djames river in st. marys ga. i was riding to work with a friend who had a jeep and we worked the evening shift that week and was comming to kingsland after getting off and it was full moon that night. As we came into sight of okefenokee sign on right side of hwy 40 a panther or as dnr calls them a cougar jumped from one side of ditch bank on right {north} side and cleared one lane of road . called dnr in bruinswick next morning to report sighting and asked to havew a ranger come down so i could show him tracks where cat walked down dirt road that had been graded the day before but no one showed up . several years later my son and i saw one cross road in kingsland hunting club and i saw two more the next year cross dirt boundry road between kingsland and satilla lodge hunting clubs this was in the early 1990;s . Cats may have been just passing through but i know what i saw.

  3. This morning, September 22nd 2022, I saw the flank, rear legs and tail of a mountain lion walking into the woods after crossing the railroad tracks that run through the Okmulgee National Monument Park. I wasn’t sure whether it was a mountain lion or a Florida panther. I have not seen a Florida panther but I’ve seen plenty of mountain lions in the west. The park is going to put cameras out to see if it can’t get pictures of this panther or lion.

  4. Verifiable “big cats” in Camden County GA. St Marys / Kingsland. I can only imagine the true rural areas!

    We are building out and clearing out hundreds of acres and they are getting kicked out of their habitat. Everyone has “Ring Cameras” and the like. It’s almost silly to suggest they don’t exist.

    Swing by and see one.

    Back in NY the state would “deny occurances of Big Cats” for a multitude of reasons, almost silly tinfoil hat reasons. Shocked to see the GA DNR do the same thing.

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