Are cougars roaming the Upstate? - FOX Carolina 21

Are cougars roaming the Upstate?

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A print the Kelseys say a cougar made on their land. (Source: The Kelseys) A print the Kelseys say a cougar made on their land. (Source: The Kelseys)
ABBEVILLE, SC (FOX Carolina) -

Witnesses who said they've seen cougars around wooded areas and bodies of water throughout the Upstate, though some experts may disagree about their sightings.

"It certainly wasn't a deer," Sam Armstrong said.

Armstrong said he was driving down Highway 72 between Abbeville and Calhoun Falls when he saw a cougar in April.

"It wasn't a pig," Armstrong said. "It had a brown, light brown color with darker brown spots."

He believes he saw a baby cougar dash across the highway.

"I think I got within maybe 100 to 150 feet of it before it went up into the woods on the other side," Armstrong said.

It's the latest reported sighting of many in Abbeville County.

"It's kind of interesting," Armstrong said.

And about 40 miles away in Laurens County, Scott Kinderman said he saw a cat, too, back in 2008. He said it was around the July 4th holiday.

"The first time I saw it, it was down toward the boat," Kinderman said.

He lives off Lake Rabon and said the cat made another appearance later that day.

"The second time confirmed it," Kinderman said.

Others in the community reported a panther or cougar sighting as well.

"It was a totally independent story, and we were very surprised," Kinderman said.

Wildlife biologists with the Department of Natural Resources came out to investigate.

"They mentioned other sightings, and they seemed interested because it was unusual," Kinderman said.

But they later told him it was probably a dog or a coyote. And Kinderman said he hasn't seen it since.

Biologists and others who study what some are calling cougar sightings said they need proof.

"There may be some panthers out there. I'm not convinced that they're not a few, what we call pumas running around South Carolina," Patrick McMillan said.

He's a naturalists with Clemson University and studies mountain lions, pumas or cougars. He said they're all the same cat.

"In our area, originally we had one, maybe two, what we call subspecies of puma, one of which would be the Eastern Cougar," McMillan said. But he said people pushed them out.

"What I think is actually going to happen in the future is that Florida Panthers will eventually extend back up to the coastal plain of South Carolina," he said.

But when there are reports throughout the Upstate, he tries to track down the possible sighting.

"And there seems to be a rash of them down around Abbeville County and Calhoun Falls. When you're looking for signs of cougar, what you would look for would be tracks and scat which sometimes will contain hair," McMillan said.

And right now, a print is being analyzed by biologists.

"This thing is twice as big as an 80-pound Doberman's print," Peter Kelsey said.

He and his wife Starla Kelsey, who happens to be a dog groomer, said the print is bigger than a bobcat print. They said they found the print on their land Easter weekend.

"It's about four inches across," Peter Kelsey said.

They believe the print is a cougar track.

"They can cover a lot of territory. So I would guess there had to be one passing through," Kelsey said.

A spokesperson with the Department of Natural Resources said based on records and studies, a breeding population of wild Eastern Cougars do not exist in South Carolina. Wildlife Chief Tim Ivey released this statement:

"... the only documented presence of cougars in South Carolina turned out be escaped captive animals held by private individuals. Probably the most compelling evidence is the lack of a single animal killed by automobile strike in South Carolina. The most endangered large mammal on the North American continent is the Florida Panther (cougar/mountain lion), even with small numbers of individuals in this protected population of big cats, almost annually a cat is run over crossing a highway," Ivey stated.

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