Troup County Cougar Is A Florida Panther

Hunter who killed it may face charges for killing a protected species.

Nick Carter | September 1, 2009

Dave Adams of Newnan with the cougar he shot in Troup County on Nov. 16 while deer hunting on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land along West Point Lake.

On Nov. 16, when a big cat was killed in Troup County west of LaGrange, DNR indicated it was probably a captive-reared cougar. Now that genetic testing has been conducted, it turns out the cat in question came from the endangered Florida panther population, of which there are only an estimated 100 to 120 individuals found in southwest Florida.

Dave Adams, of Newnan, was deer hunting with his muzzleloader on corps land near West Point Lake when he killed the 140-lb. male cougar. He reported the kill to DNR, which may have been a mistake.

Western cougars, which is what the cat was originally believed to be, are not protected under Georgia law. Eastern cougars, which are thought to be extinct, are protected in Georgia as game animals with no open season. Florida panthers are a federally protected endangered species. Adams could be looking at serious penalties if charges are pressed.

Other than to say the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is investigating the incident, Darwin Huggins, resident agent in charge of USFWS’ law-enforcement office in Atlanta, would not provide details of an open investigation.

He did, however, say a violation of the federal Endangered Species Act carries a range of penalties from a maximum $100,000 fine and a year in prison for a criminal misdemeanor to a $500 fine as a civil penalty at the bottom of the culpability spectrum.

“I’ve never seen anybody get a maximum,” Huggins said.

Georgia DNR is assisting in the investigation, according to Homer Bryson, assistant chief of DNR Law Enforcement. He said DNR will wait until the USFWS concludes its investigation and the U.S. Attorney decides whether or not to press charges before doing anything.

An aspect of the investigation Bryson seemed concerned about was how the panther got to Troup County.

“No one at this point is certain about how the cougar wound up where it was,” he said. “There’s as much interest about that as anything else.”
In a DNR press release, a Florida official was quoted as saying it’s unusual, but young male panthers have been known to travel great distances. The animal could have walked more than 600 miles from the Everglades to Troup County.

However, according to Huggins, even if the panther was released in Georgia, it makes no difference in Adams’ case. There is no difference under the Endangered Species Act.

Whether or not Adams is charged with any wrongdoing, Bryson suggested hunters not shoot cougars.

“You’ve got a wonderful story to tell your friends and family,” he said. “Let the cat walk.”

This confirmed cougar occurrence in Georgia may also lend some credibility to the accounts of cougar sightings that have been popping up around the state for years.

“We’ve been getting reports of sightings off and on for many years now. They do investigate these and look at them,” Bryson said. “I think the philosophy of 25 years ago, when someone said they saw a cougar and you’d roll your eyes; I think those days are gone.”

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