A love of outdoor activities has led Dennis and Joan Carter across the country. They’ve seen animals of every stripe and size.
On Monday afternoon, while returning from a weekend camping jaunt at Kerr Scott Reservoir in Wilkes County, the couple was startled to the point of awe when a huge cat crossed in front their vehicle on N.C. Highway 115 in northern Iredell County.
“It was a cat, I’m sure of that,” Dennis said. “It didn’t look anything like a dog or coyote. It walked and moved like a cat, not like a dog.”
The couple said they spotted the animal on Wilkesboro Highway near Taylor Springs Road and Rupard Road. Dennis described it as being light gray in color and about 6 feet long, including “a long curled tail.”
The animal was traveling west direction with a “loping” gait until it reached the street.
“And then it took off,” Dennis said, “and jumped down into the creek.”
The question is: What did the Carters see?
Dennis swears it was a cougar or a big cat very similar to it.
But Tanya Cline, manager of the wildlife habitats at Grandfather Mountain, said such a thing “is extremely unlikely.”
As far as she knows, the only two cougars in western North Carolina — Nikata, a female, and Aspen, a male — are under her care at the habitat.
“They have been extirpated from this area,” she said, using a term synonymous with “local extinction” and meaning “no longer indigenous.”
In other words, cougars used to live in North Carolina but have moved on.
Also, Cline said, cougars (which, she said, are also known as mountain lions, panthers, pumas and upward of 100 other names) are brown or tan in color, not gray.
The Carters, who live just outside Statesville’s city limits, are firm about the color of the animal they saw.
So Cline is stumped. She said she has heard rumors of gray-colored cougars but knows of none that has ever been captured.
“One possibility,” she said, “is that this was an exotic pet someone had that the owners let go or that got away.”
Cline is not denying that the Carters saw a big cat and says there have been other sightings of cougars around the state.
“A lot of people claim to have seen them,” she said. “But the State of North Carolina says they’re not here.”
Greg Jenkins of Wildlife in North Carolina magazine agrees that if the Carters did see a cougar it is almost certainly one that had been in captivity.
“There are people in the state who have them,” he said. “And they do get away.”
Jenkins re-emphasized that the state’s official word on the matter is that there are no naturally wild cougars in the state.
“But they’re sexy,” Jenkins added. “And people want to see them. But they can also kill people.”Whatever the Carters saw, they are concerned the animal may do damage to livestock.
Dennis said he contacted the Iredell County Animal Services & Control Department, which directed him to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.
“It has to eat,” Carter said. “And it’s big enough to be really dangerous.”
Source: Jim McNally, Statesville R&L, May 6, 2009