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The Truth About Black Panthers and Bears in Alabama

By Frank Allen, Area Wildlife Biologist James D. Martin-Skyline WMA

The last confirmed mountain lion in Alabama was killed around 1948 in St. Clair County. Free ranging mountain lions can still occasionally enter the state, but these instances are highly unlikely.

Mountain lions range from northern Canada and Alaska to the southern tip of Chile. They are generally gray, red, or brown in color. Even though popular lore suggests they are black, there has never been a documented case of a black mountain lion in all of North America. There are only two species of large cats in the world that are known to be black. The leopard, which is found in Africa and Asia, in some cases, may be black. Another large cat that is rarely black in color is the jaguar, which lives from South America to Mexico and small sections of the southwestern United States. Other names for the mountain lion are puma, catamount, cougar and panther.

The nearest self-sustaining known wild population of mountain lions, called the Florida panther, is found in southwest Florida. They reside in the second largest uninhabited block of land east of the Mississippi River. Since 1972 there have been 44 panther/vehicle collisions confirmed in all of Florida. In Alabama, no mountain lion/vehicle collisions have been confirmed for at least 60 years and there is no self-sustaining population of mountain lions currently known in Alabama. Resident populations appear to have been extirpated from Alabama in the mid-1800s.

Reports of mountain lion sightings in Alabama are common, but these are probably cases of either mistaken identity or released captives. There have not been any confirmed reports by trail cameras, road kills, traditional photography, or hunter-harvested specimens since 1948. At last count there were around 30 game breeders who still retained permits to have captive mountain lions. New permits are no longer issued. 

On the other hand, Alabama does still have a resident population of black bears. They are located in an area of southwest Alabama encompassing around 146 square miles of swampland that includes portions of Baldwin, Clarke, Mobile, and Washington counties. In addition, bears that disperse from populations of adjoining states, such as Georgia and Tennessee, occasionally enter parts of north Alabama. Recently, a radio-collared bear was known to have entered northwest Alabama from Mississippi and tagged bears dispersing from Georgia have also been documented in northeast Alabama. These bears that wander into the state are not yet considered to be part of an established breeding population. However, within the last two years there have been several cubs born and raised in the northeastern part of Alabama.

Both the mountain lion and the black bear are protected in Alabama and it is against the law to harm or kill these animals. If they are spotted, take pictures as proof, record as many details as possible, and notify Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.


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