paw print

An Aragon family claims this is a paw print of a mountain lion they saw near their property. They say they’ve seen the mountain lion in the area before.

Last February I wrote a column about my friend Erin Ellison who was taking a lot of flack from her friends because she thought there could POSSIBLY be a large, predatory cat (such a mountain lion) in the Flint Hill area in Aragon.

She had never seen one but she was vocal about her belief that it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.

After that column ran, Erin and I got a lot of feedback from people in the community claiming they’ve seen a mountain lion in and around Rome, Floyd County and Polk County. People claim to have seen one in Lindale and on Berry College land. Several people said that they lived in the Aragon area and believed there was some sort of large cat in that area.

Now of course some of those “sightings” can simply be chalked up to mistaken identity or a vivid imagination. But there were a couple sightings by hunters — people who would know the difference between a large predatory cat and perhaps a large dog or a coyote. I heard from people who would certainly know a mountain lion if they saw one.

Well more recently, another friend of mine — Colin Powell — claims he has had three different mountain lion sightings in Floyd County while hunting. One was near Marion Dairy Road and another was near Walker Mountain. His most recent sighting was in Lindale a mile from the Polk County line off of Hwy. 27.

Colin believes what he saw was a mountain lion or a Florida panther. He readily admits that this area is certainly not in those cats’ natural home range but suggests that perhaps with their natural habitat diminishing, the panthers are being pushed farther and farther away from their native environment. And this area provides an abundance of deer and small game to sustain a large cat.

Well someone else came forward after learning of Erin’s and Colin’s theory. A family that lives in Aragon claim that they know for a fact that there are at least one or two mountain lions in the Aragon area. They claim that they have known about the cats for years and have seen them on several occasions.

This family even has some evidence of one of their sightings. They saw a mountain lion near a tall fence on their property and saw it clear the fence in a single leap. They went to the spot where they saw it last and took a photo of a paw print, making sure to put a hand next to the print for size reference. I’m including the print with this column.

Listen, I’m no wildlife expert. When I hear stories like these I’m torn. With all our modern technology — cell phones, drones, trail cams — you’d think that if there was a population of large predatory cats in Floyd or Polk County that there would be more evidence to prove it. It’s like how a ton of people claim they’ve seen BigFoot. But where’s the hard evidence?

On the other hand, Floyd and Polk counties do have lots of wild forest and wooded areas uninhabited by people. And mountain lions are elusive creatures by nature. They’re stealthy and like many other animals their instinct would be to avoid contact with humans.

So I’m gonna say that weighing all the current evidence, I believe there could be a mountain lion in these parts. If this area can support black bears then I believe it could also support a large predatory cat.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources does not believe Georgia is home to a population of these creatures. According to their web site, ”To date, no credible physical evidence (carcasses, trail camera pictures, photographs, film footage, etc.) has been found to substantiate the existence of a population of mountain lions in Georgia.”

However, the site does go on to say that in the last 25 years, there have been only three (3) 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 (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.

So if anyone reading this has any mountain lion (or other big cat) sightings in or around Floyd County try to get a photo or video. Let the DNR know about it. Don’t shoot it and get in trouble cause it could be an endangered animal. And if you feel so inclined, share it on social media so that Erin and Colin can be vindicated.

Severo Avila is Features Editor for the Rome News-Tribune