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Are There Wild Cats in South Carolina?

Kristin Hitchcock

By Kristin Hitchcock

Canada Lynx in the snow

Bobcats are South Carolina’s only wild cat. This feline is a close relative to the Lynx, which roams further up north. You can tell the similarities by looking at them, specifically thanks to their black-tipped ears. However, bobcats are extremely small, ranging between 10–25 pounds. Therefore, they are not usually considered a threat to people.

They are about the same size as most domestic cats, after all.

These cats get their name from their short tail. They do have a tail, but it is only about 6 to 8 inches long. Their “bobbed tail” is one of their most distinguishing features.

The bobcat is plentiful in South Carolina but they are very shy and stealthy, and you may live in South Carolina and never actually see one. Being nocturnal doesn’t help matters, especially since their coat makes them basically impossible to see at night.

There are some sightings of cougars in the area as well. However, there has not been a verified sighting in over 100 years. There is no established cougar population in the area, which means that these large cats are not currently breeding and living in South Carolina.

Cougars are known to have a long-range, especially males. Therefore, it is not unheard of for a young male to wander into the state for a time and then leave. These cats separate from their mothers to find their own territory when they reach sexual maturity, and males may have to travel very far to find free territory.

Bobcats in South Carolina

bobcat in the forest
Image Credit: milesz, Pixabay

Bobcats are an elusive species. While they are relatively common in the state, it is actually quite difficult to spot them. They are extremely shy and nocturnal for the most part. They are most active around dawn and dusk, though they will technically come out at any time.

As a territorial species, these cats do not live close to each other. Their home ranges vary in size depending on the location. Cats need enough food within their territory to survive, so their ranges will be based on where food is located in the area—some may have territory that stretches over 40 acres.

Bobcats will eat a wide range of different foods. As opportunistic animals, they tend to eat whatever size-appropriate animal they can find. In South Carolina, this often leads to them eating smaller deer, rabbits, and rats. However, they may also consume fish, birds, and squirrels, and some have even been seen eating insects.

While these cats are too small to threaten most people, they can sometimes hunt small livestock—chickens are the most common victims. While these cats are shy, they will live near humans to grant them access to livestock.

This species is also known to hunt and potentially kill domesticated felines. It is unknown whether they see them as competition or food.

You can legally trap and hunt bobcats with the right permit but they are endangered in some areas. Usually, this is a result of their food sources being destroyed or the use of rat poison. When this species eats poisoned rats, they become poisoned as well and will eventually die.

Are There Mountain Lions in South Carolina?

Mountain lion lying on the ground
Image Credit: PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay

Mountain lions were once native to South Carolina. However, as people moved into the area, much of their environment was destroyed. Currently, there has not been a verified sighting in over 100 years.

However, cougars do have a renowned wanderlust and are known for ending up places they technically aren’t supposed to be.

Currently, experts are adamant that there is no known mountain lion population in South Carolina. The large cats are not staying and breeding in the state. However, that does not mean that cougars may not end up in the state at all.

Young males must find their own territory after leaving their mothers. Sometimes, they travel quite far to make this happen and they may travel so far that they end up in South Carolina. However, without females in the area, males are unlikely to stay for long. Most sightings are not likely established populations. Instead, they’re wandering males.

There are many reports made to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources each year about mountain lions. In fact, they usually receive close to 100 calls. However, they have not been able to confirm any of these sightings. Most tracks and pictures could possibly have been a different animal, which means that they cannot officially count as a cougar sighting.

While there may be a few stray mountain lions wandering around the state, there is not currently an established population.

Are There Big Cats in South Carolina?

Bobcat crouching on top of boulder
Image Credit: bmarxdueren, Pixabay

The only established population of wild cats in South Carolina is the bobcat, which is not very large in the least. This feline only gets to about 25 pounds at most. Males are considerably larger than females, which can be as small as 10 pounds. Therefore, they are not exactly something we would count as “big cats.”

With that said, there are some sightings of mountain lions and cougars but none of them have been confirmed. If the sighting could have possibly been something else, then the state cannot confirm it as a mountain lion. With the closest mountain lion population being in South Florida, cougars would have to travel very far to end up in South Carolina.

Experts are adamant that there are no big cats in South Carolina, which they say can be confirmed because there is no roadkill or dead animals. Cougars do not do well with roads and are often the victim of collisions with cars.

Are Panthers in South Carolina?

Panthers are simply another term for mountain lions or cougars, which are actually known by many different names. As we previously stated, these cats are not currently established in the state. Occasionally, individual animals may be spotted, but these sightings are not confirmed.

While mountain lions may occasionally wander into the area, they are exceedingly rare and the state has no breeding population.

Conclusion

The only established large cat is the bobcat in South Carolina. However, even this species is not very large. They can weigh anywhere from 10–25 pounds. They aren’t much bigger than a domestic house cat in many cases.

Their small size paired with their stealth ability allows them to stay hidden quite well. Therefore, it is more than possible to live near them and never see them. They are shy and do not like people, though they will live near populated areas. They just stick to the shadows.

Mountain lions do not currently have an established population in South Carolina. They did at one point, but the last one was spotted in the early 1900s. Since then, there have been more sightings, but none of them have been confirmed. Some sightings were later verified as a different animal, such as a coyote or bobcat.

Therefore, your odds of seeing a mountain lion are extremely low. Instead, most cat sightings are likely bobcats.


Featured Image Credit: Warren Metcalf, Shutterstock

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