Mountain Lions

Public Notice:​

No evidence suggests that Kentucky is home to wild mountain lions. Any mountain lion appearing in the state would likely be an escaped (or released) captive animal.  In Kentucky, a ban on the possession of mountain lions as pets has been in place since 2005.

mountain lion in tree

Photo Credit: Justin Shoemaker, USFWS

​On ​​​​​​Mountain Lions

Few large mammals generate more intrigue, folklore and misinformation than the mountain lion. While this predator once roamed much of the U.S., their numbers plummeted from predator eradication campaigns, hunting and habitat loss. 

In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the eastern cougar extinct. Based on its extensive research, the Service concluded this subspecies of ​big cats had disappeared from the east by the 1930s. While mountain lions were once common in Kentucky, research shows the state has not supported a wild population of mountain lions for more than a century. In the landmark 1974 book “Mammals of Kentucky,” authors Roger W. Barbour and Wayne ​H. Davis noted no valid records of mountain lions after 1899.​​​​

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources receives reports each year of mountain lions roaming the state. However, there have been only two confirmations: a female kitten struck by a car in Floyd County in June 1997 and an adult male mountain lion dispatched by a Kentucky Fish and Wildlife conservation o​fficer in Bourbon County on December 15, 2014. DNA testing revealed the kitten had South American ancestry, concluding it was of captive origin. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife biologists rely on physical, verifiable evidence to assess mountain lion sightings in the state.

Collared Mountain Lion standing over a kill on a hill
Radio-collared mountain lion captured on a remote camera in North Dakota.
Photo courtesy of North Dakota Game and Fish Department
​ ​

Download the 2014 Mountain Lion Investigation Reports below:


How to Report Potential Sightings!

Report a suspected mountain lion to Kentucky Fish and Wildlife by calling the department’s Information Center during weekday working hours at 1-800-858-1549 or by emailing ​


  1. Original electronic images should be provided to Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.
  2. Do not Photoshop, crop, enhance or otherwise alter the image.
  3. Images taken off the Internet or a Facebook post have questionable credibility.
  4. Provide all images containing the animal in question (not just the “best” image).
  5. Record the date an​​d time the image was captured.
  6. Provide the county and location where the image was captured.
  7. Submit electronic images with all pertinent information via email to


  1. Provide Kentucky Fish and Wildlife with a clear photograph of the track.
  2. Do not Photoshop, crop, enhance or otherwise alter the image.
  3. The track should be clean, clear and easy to see.
  4. Remember that if a track shows claw marks, it is likely not a mountain lion.
  5. Lay a dollar bi​​ll, coin or ruler beside the track for the photograph.
  6. Provide the length and width of the track.
  7. Provide the county and location where the track was found.
  8. Submit electronic images with this information via email to ​
Mountain Lion track image courtesy of Illinois Department of Natural Resources

Note: Tracks may be preserved for inspection by securely covering with a 5-gallon bucket.

Good evidence is the best way to determine the presence of a mountain lion. By following the suggested guidelines, reports of mountain lions can be better evaluated for authenticity. If the physical evidence supports the possibility of a mountain lion, a Kentucky Fish and Wildlife biologist may wish to visit the site for an evaluation.


​The increasing number of big cat reports in the state coincides with the return of the bobcat to Kentucky’s landscape. Bobcats, considered rare as late as 1974, have increased in range and abundance throughout Kentucky. They are now found in every county in the state. Bobcats may have solid brown coats, which can cause people to misidentify them when glimpsed in low light. In addition, it is no coincidence that reports of mountain lions have increased with the popularity of the internet- which enables the unintentional and intentional sharing of inaccurate information.​

black and white photograph of a mountain lion running through a forest at night

Radio-collared bobcat captured on remote camera, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources

Mountain lion walking through a field

Mountain lion captured on a remote camera in Lincoln County, ​MO Photo courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation

A good indicator of the presence of mountain lions is the number of animals killed on the road. In Florida, with its small population of panthers, about two dozen big cats are killed on the road each year. Kentucky’s tally is the one female kitten struck by a vehicle in Floyd County in 1997, and that animal was of captive origin.​

Mountian Lion standing in the snow

​​Photo Courtesy Bill Lea​

Mountain Lion Quick Facts:

  • The scientific name for a mountain lion is Puma concolor, which loosely translates to describe a cat with one color.
  • The mountain lion has many common names including cougar, puma, catamount, panther, and ghost cat.
  • Adults typic​ally weigh 90-160 pounds with a robust tail that can be one-third as long as the cat’s body.
  • Mountain lions are large cats with short tawny brown fur and a lighter white underbelly.
  • Animals commonly misidentified as mountain lions include coyotes, bobcats, housecats, dogs and white-tailed deer.
  • “Black panthers” exist only as the melanistic (black) phases of the leopard (Panthera pardus) in Africa and Asia, and the jaguar (Panthera onca) of Mexico and Central and South America.
  • The nearest known reproducing populations of western mountain lions are in Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota and Texas.
  • In recent years, young male mountain lions dispersing from their home ranges in search of new territory have been confirmed in Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, ​Kansas, and Missouri.
  • The presence of a lone mountain lion does not mean the area has an established population.​​​​

The rising popularity of motion-activated trail cameras deployed year-round throughout Kentucky’s woods and fields has yet to produce a confirmed image of a mountain lion in the state. Likewise, more than a quarter million hunters take to the state’s woods and fields each year for deer season and no one has taken a mountain lion. Several years ago, a hunter shot what he said was a mountain lion with his bow. DNA tests on the recovered arrow revealed that he had shot a bobcat.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife biologists monitor the expansion of cougar populations from the western U.S. To help protect the public from escaped captive animals, the department has banned the possession of mountain lions as pets since 2005.

Mountain Lion in a tree

Female mountain lion treed by researchers in
Washington state. Photo courtesy of Rich Beausoleil,
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Treed Mountain Lion

Treed mountain lion in Platte County, MO Photo courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation

Other Contacts

Click on the links below for additional information regarding mountain lions:

Life History:

Mountain lions occupy only a fraction of their former range in the western United States and Florida. However, the number of mountain lions in the west is increasing. As a result, dispersing males wandering from their home territories occasionally show up further east. Currently, the nearest wild population of mountain lions is in Nebraska, more than 900 miles from Kentucky. A small population of panthers—fewer than 200 animals—also lives in southwestern Florida.​​

Classification:  Mountain lions are carnivores classified within the Family Felidae. Its closest cousins are the jaguarundi (Puma yagouaroundi) and cheetah (Acinonyx jubatas). Biologists continue to debate the taxonomy of mountain lions, particularly whether North American mountain lions comprise single or multiple subspecies. 

General Description: Mountain lions are easily distinguished from other large cats in North America by their large body and long tail. The short, tawny brown fur that covers most of their body easily blends with most surroundings. Short black fur covers the backs of the ears, the tip of the tail, and the sides of the muzzle. Mountain lions have sharp, curved claws to help them climb and bring down prey. Mountain lions usually retract their claws when walking.

Body length:  5 – 8 ½ feet  
Ear length:  3 – 4 inches
Tail length:  21 – 35 inches  
Weight:  90 – 160 pounds

Behavior:  Mountain lions are solitary animals except during breeding or when females raise kittens. The young typically remain with their mother for 2 years. During this time, the young animals learn how to hunt and survive from their mother. Once the family breaks up, subadult males may travel (disperse) hundreds of miles in search of a new home range.

Diet: Mountain lions are strict carnivores; their primary prey is deer. If no deer are available, they will eat small to medium-sized mammals and sometimes livestock.

Breeding Cycle: Females can breed at 3 years old. The mother typically produces a litter of two to three kittens every other year. Lions give birth in a den; sites may include rocky outcrops or crevices, caves and brushy areas. Newborn kittens are blind at birth. Kittens have buff-colored fur spotted with black. Young animals accompany their mother on hunting trips when they reach two months old.

Movements and Dispersal:  Mountain lions are wide-ranging animals. Males have home ranges (territories) that cover 50 – 150 square miles. Female home ranges are roughly half that of males. Young female mountain lions may incorporate part of their mother’s home range into their own range. Young males may travel hundreds of miles searching for a permanent home range.

If You See a Mountain Lion:​

Follow these recommendations in the rare event you see or encounter a mountain lion:

  • NEVER run from a mountain lion, as this may trigger a natural chase response.
  • Immediately pick up small children so they are not tempted to run.
  • If encountered, face the animal and slowly back away while talking loudly.
  • Make yourself appear larger by waving your arms or shaking nearby branches.
  • Immediately report the sighting by calling Kentucky Fish and Wildlife at 1-800-858-1549 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Eastern time) or 1-800-25-ALERT (1-800-252-5378) after regular business hours.

Per KRS 150.172, a person may kill any wildlife in self-defense or defense of another person. Any mountain lion killed or found dead in Kentucky must be surrendered to the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife within 24 hours for genetic testing and physical examination.

Evidence of Mountian Lions in Kentucky:

Mountian lion comparison table via the North Dakota Game and Fish Department
Illustration showing a size comparison of different sizes between the adult mountain lion, a large dog, a bobcat, and a common housecat. Graphic courtesy of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Currently, no evidence suggests that Kentucky is home to wild mountain lions. Any mountain lion appearing in the state would likely be an escaped (or released) captive animal. Kentucky has banned the possession of mountain lions as pets since 2005. While western mountain lion populations continue to grow and their occurrence has been confirmed in the Midwest, young wandering males from those areas have not been documented in Kentucky.

Biologists at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources are interested in documenting any credible evidence of mountain lions in the state. The following information will help avoid misidentification of an animal.


  • Remote trail cameras are a great tool for documenting mountain lions.
  • Adult male mountain lions stand about 30 inches at the shoulder. Use plants in the photo to help gauge the act​ual size of an animal.
  • The tail will be approximately one-third of the overall body length.
  • Mountain lions do not have spots.
  • Bobcats have a white spot behind each ear; mountain lions do not have these markings.


  • Cats typically retract their claws when walking; claw marks will not be visible in tracks.
  • Cat toes are tear-drop shaped; dog or coyote tracks are more rounded.
  • Dog tracks are oval shaped while mountain lion tracks are usually wider than long.
  • Mountain lion tracks generally measure no more than 3 1/2" long.

 Infographic showing a mountain lion's track against a dog's track
An infographic showing the difference between a Mountain Lion Track (left) and a Large Dog (right). Adult Mountain lion tracks are often 3.5 inches wide by 3 inches high. Dog tracks are highly variable in size.
  1. Mountain lion tracks will not have even toe alignment. A dog's toes are typically even.
  2. A Mountain lion's front heel has two lobes, while a dog's has one lobe ending at a point.
  3. Mountain Lion tracks rarely show claw marks. Claw marks are visible with most canines.
  4. A Mountain Lion's back heel has 3 rounded lobes, while a dog typically has two.


Over the last 10 years, the Internet has made generating mountain lion hoaxes exceptionally easy. A hoaxster typically uses a legitimate mountain lion photograph taken in another state and then claims the image was taken in Kentucky.

Some hoaxsters find it amusing to scare people with false claims backed by photo “evidence.” Others believe the information is accurate and spread without questioning whether it’s real. Following are photos used in Kentucky's most widespread mountain lion Internet hoaxes. Before forwarding a mountain lion “report” to your friends, scroll down and see if any photos match.

mountain lion dragging a deer next to a camera
Trail cam image showing a mountain lion dragging a deer carcass in front of a deer feeder.



This is one of the most widely circulated mo​mountain lion hoax photographs. This image was claimed in Kentucky or several other states in the eastern U.S.​



This is an actual photo—but it was taken in South Texas on Feb. 15, 2009.

Man holding up a large paw of a mountain lion
There are two images, with the top image showing a man holding up a mountain lion carcass by the head and the bottom showing the man holding up a large paw.



Several people contacted the KDFWR's Information Center after seeing these photographs that claimed this mountain lion was killed around Cadiz in western Kentucky.



This is a photo of a mountain lion struck and killed by a vehicle in northern Arizona in the winter of 2007.

mountain lion walking on a trail in a woods
Photograph showing a mountain lion walking a muddy trail in a wooded area.



The KDFWR Information Center received many emails about this 2011 photo, which is believed to have been taken in Eastern Kentucky.


This is a photo of a mountain lion in western Montana, taken by a remote camera in the summer of 2010.

black leopard walking through a grassy field
The image shows a black leopard walking through tall grass.


The KDFWR has received many emails of the above image with repeated claims that the image was captured by a remote trail camera in Pendleton County, KY, in December 2013 and Whitley County, KY, in February 2015.


This image is of a melanistic (black phase) leopard photographed on a remote camera within a captive facility in South Africa.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​