The mountain lion, also called puma, cougar, or catamount, is a versatile wild cat. They are powerful apex predators that live in North America and South America. In the United States alone, there are more than 30,000 of them. Seeing one, however, is a different story. They’re extremely stealthy and shy and tend to stay away from people.
Are There Mountain Lions In Virginia?
Virginia, like most other eastern states, does not have any mountain lions. The last time mountain lions lived in Virginia was over a century ago- in 1882.
Before the turn of the 20th century, mountain lions were almost everywhere in the United States. Virginia also had its fair share of them, specifically in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Today, the mountains remain, but the mountain lions do not.
What happened to them? Well, humans happened. Excessive hunting and killing brought their numbers down to zero. The eastern cougars that once lived in Virginia have now been declared extinct.
Mountain lion sightings in Virginia?
Despite their extinct status, many people believe that mountain lions can someday return to Virginia. Since 1971, there have been 121 unconfirmed sightings in the state. Most of these reports come from the areas around Shenandoah National Park.
In fact, of all the places in Virginia, the Shenandoah Mountains would be the ideal place for mountain lions to make their comeback. This is because the peaks provide an excellent habitat for them to breed and hunt.
Other areas that have reported mountain lion sightings are Bedford, Amherst, and the Nelson County region.
While these sightings offer some hope that the population will soon return to the state, there are some criticisms to keep in mind. For starters, many of the sightings that have been reported might have been of the same cat. Mountain lions are known to travel quickly, so one cat can easily cover different counties on the same day.
Another explanation for these sightings is that they aren’t really wild mountain lions, but instead ones that have escaped captivity. Or, ones that were held captive but were intentionally released into the wild.
However, the most likely explanation is that people in Virginia have actually spotted western male mountain lions. The wild, wild, west can get lonely, lonely. That’s why western mountain lions sometimes travel eastward- to look for better hunting and breeding grounds.
What big cats live in Virginia?
Virginia may not have mountain lions, but they do have one species of wild cat- the bobcat. Like mountain lions, bobcats are also native to North America. They are medium-sized cats and are not technically classified as “big cats.” They belong to the Lynx genus, while big cats belong to the Panthera genus. However, they are still apex predators and expert hunters.
There are around 2-3 million bobcats in the whole of the United States. They can adapt to any kind of habitat- be it mountainy or swampy, or anything in between. They prefer less inhabited areas and aren’t remotely interested in interacting with humans. In Virginia, there is a significant bobcat population. However, the exact number is difficult to garner, so it could be anywhere from 100 to over 1,000.
Currently, bobcats are the only wild cat species that are still present in Virginia. However, with all the buzz about mountain lion sightings, this could very well change.
Also, Check Our Guide On Mountain Lions In the U.S.
Can you shoot a mountain lion in Virginia?
Mountain lions have completely disappeared from the eastern United States. One major reason for this is hunting. Sadly, they were also killed because they were deemed a threat to people’s livestock and farm animals.
Around 14 states allow mountain lion hunting, as long as it’s during hunting season. These are mostly western and southwestern states, like Arizona and Texas. However, California is an exception, because it has officially banned mountain lion hunting.
Mountain lions no longer naturally exist in Virginia. Shooting one would therefore be considered unlawful.
What to do if you see a mountain lion in Virginia?
Mountain lions in Virginia have been extinct since 1882. However, some experts believe that this could change in the next 20-30 years. This is after seeing many males as far west as Utah and Idaho successfully travel across the country. Slowly, but surely, mountain lions are reclaiming what was once theirs.
In Virginia, landscapes like the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah Mountains would be perfect for mountain lions to start living in again. If you ever truly spot a mountain lion in Virginia, it would be a cause for celebration for nature enthusiasts everywhere!
However, keeping yourself safe always takes priority. Experts say you should never approach a mountain lion. If they happen to see you, slowly back away. Don’t ever run away from them, because this might trigger their instinct to chase.
Instead, stay calm and face the animal. Stand up taller and do whatever you can to look intimidating. When the mountain lion realizes that you are not prey, it will move away from you.
After your encounter, the ideal thing to do is to report the mountain lion sighting to your local authorities. They will assess the situation and take appropriate action.
Also, Read About Mountain Lions In Vermont
What states in the US have mountain lions?
There are around 30,000 mountain lions in the United States. Most of them live in these 15 states:
- New Mexico
- South Dakota
Out of these states, Colorado has the highest population of mountain lions, with an estimated 7,000. Most of these states, as you can see, lie in the western regions of the country. In the east, Florida is the only state with a natural population of mountain lions.
And that was everything about the Mountain Lion in Virginia. I hope this article answers all your questions.