Photo of a Florida panther crossing a gravel road in South Florida.

Panthers in Georgia? Probably Not

The existence of panthers in Georgia has been debated for decades and continues to be debated today. Do they exist here? 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 cat are we talking about.

What is a panther?

Technically, the term 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 left in the wild.

Are They 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 melanistic phase (black) South American jaguar.
An extremely rare melanistic South American jaguar. Definitely NOT found in Georgia.

What About Black Panthers?

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.

So 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 big cat 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 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.


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 one of these big cats 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.

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  1. Well this didn’t age well. A trail cam pic of a black panther in glenville ga was taken Sunday night was posted to Facebook. I know this family, well respected. Here is the link.

    📸 Look at this post on Facebook

    Not to mention my wife and I caught a panther darting across the highway one night years ago on the way to Statesboro…right outside of Glenville.

    So the easy answer from me is Yes, there is in fact at least 1 “black” panther in Georgia.

  2. Well, I ve read your article, and want to say you are 100 percent wrong. There are BLACK panthers in Georgia. I know because I have seen them (them, as in plural) in broad daylight. I watched a mother and cubs as they sat and watched a herd of cows. The local hunters responded and caught the cubs but not the mother. They held the physical proof in their hands that black panthers are in Georgia. I have also seen the big black cats on other occasions. They also roam the river area where I live in Alapaha, coming into people’s yards as they prowl the area. Several of our citizens have actually seen them.
    They seem to live and hunt along the rivers and creeks in southern Georgia. I’ve also seen the Florida cougars. In fact I almost hit on the highway, near Warrior Creek. IT WAS A HUGE TAN LONG-TAILED CAT in broad daylight. Cougars and panthers have distinct paw prints that cannot be confused as a common house cat. I have some very large house cats, so I know the difference in the size of the prints.
    WE DO HAVE BLACK PANTHERS IN GEORGIA! So, stop telling everyone that they don’t exist.
    South Georgians have known about these big cats for decades.

  3. I have with my own eyes seen a black panther in chattooga county on old Alabama highway. It was 11 o’clock at night and I had my windows down. I thought it was a Newfoundland dog at first but its eyes had a green glow and the tail was too skinny and long to be a dog tail. The end of the tail was puffy and its teeth were more big cat-like. If my windows had not been down I would have stopped and taken a picture but I didn’t want it to jump in. I may sound crazy but I know what I saw. My parents also have a similar experience around the same area.

  4. Also if you really want to see a mountain lion in North Georgia come to Chattooga County and head to the mountains. Hang up there long enough and you’ll see one. On the edge of Chattooga on the walker county side there is a community called Ridgeway and there have been hundreds of sightings there.

  5. I am certain I saw a panther crossing a highway with a large animal in its mouth in south Georgia this past week. It was a startling sight.

  6. I in south ga. I have a hard time believing it too. but I see one they are here for sure that right I seen one like it or not.

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