By Kim Lemmon, Ohio’s Country Journal
Reports of unusual sightings of big cats are not uncommon throughout the United States and Ohio. From celebrities like Uncle Si of Ducky Dynasty professing to have seen a large panther-like black cat to friends and neighbors quietly professing to have seen such a cat or its tracks in Ohio, it is certain that the Buckeye State is not excluded sightings of large cats in the wild.
I recently checked in with a Wildlife Communication Specialist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife and I asked her what ODNR’s thoughts were on mountain lions residing in Ohio.
Here’s ODNR’s official statement on cats in Ohio as of late-November 2014.
“Last summer, an off-duty wildlife officer spotted what he believes to be a mountain lion in Jefferson County. Nothing ever came of it after his reported sighting. No photos snapped by local residents of the county pre- or post-sighting by the officer, no trail camera photos, no scat, no hair/fur, no tracks, etc.
While we have a significant population of state-protected bobcats (which people sometimes confuse), there is no indication of wild cougars/mountain lions in Ohio. It’s been 100 years or so since the last wild mountain lion was confirmed in the Buckeye State.
We have received many unconfirmed reports of sightings over the years, but never anything concrete. Concrete data would include photos that can be confirmed as snapped in Ohio, scat, tracks, or the animal itself such as a road-kill. We have not received anything of the like thus far.
Mountain lions are very stealthy and secretive animals, so they’re tough to track and locate. That being said, we can’t confirm wild mountain lions in Ohio until evidence supports such.”
I was motivated to contact the ODNR because a Facebook page dedicated to Homesteaders in Morrow County recently suggested that local folks had spotted a large black cat and large cat footprints in a portion of the county. There was much local debate on the subject with some folks believing a panther resides in our county, while others believe a large bobcat was simply mistakenly identified as a panther.
About the same time that these rumors were surfacing, a loyal OCJ/OAN reader/listener left a comment on a black bear story on our website about their very own panther sighting in southern Ohio. They gave vivid details about their experience which follow:
“I didn’t want to say this, but since you are trying to make so much about a little-old black bear siting… Of which over here in Adam’s County is no big thing. We have bigger fish to watch-out for… Or should I say cats? My wife and I, returning home in the early afternoon a few hours before sunset, spotted Uncle Si’s big Black Panther. We were driving down, south on St. Rt. 247, and just before we got to the little bridge and guard rails before Greenbriar Rd., there, coming across the road right in front of us, from the west side to the east, was the largest black cat I’ve ever seen. It was larger than any I’ve seen in the many zoos we’ve been to. It was larger than all of those we’ve ever seen on all of the TV shows. Its tail was as long as it was, and together, they almost reached past being from the roads centerline to the berm. It didn’t bound, but ran in a fast, low run and didn’t jump or bound in any excessive motion until it went up the steep bank on the east side of the road. Even then it wasn’t excessive, but just one smooth, fluid motion as it disappeared into the brush. My wife and I have lived in the bush, homesteaded in, hunted and lived in, Alaska for ten years. We are familiar with a lot of common, wild animals. We’ve seen wolves and grizzly bears, moose, caribou and even wolverines, a few lynx, bobcats, beaver, coyotes and foxes, let alone deer and black bear and all of the other common small critters. This was a big, black cat that, we’ve come to know as a Black Panther. I suppose, now, you can put us down on your “Crazies” list too…”
So what do I think? I certainly don’t think any folks that claim to have seen a panther or mountain lion in Ohio are crazy, but I unfortunately haven’t been blessed with seeing one myself. I think there probably are some mountain lions in southern Ohio. I also think there are probably some living with darker coats than normal that can appear as black in certain lighting and look like panthers.
Do I think there is a cougar in Morrow County? Well, no but I’d love to be proven wrong as long as we can keep our citizens and our livestock safe while supporting the existence of such a large cat in the county.
Let’s keep an eye out through out the Buckeye state and be sure to send me photographic evidence of the cats you are seeing in the wilds of Ohio.