ELEANOR, WV (WOWK) — Are there mountain lions in the Mountain State? The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WV DNR) says no, but several residents say they may have recently seen the creature creeping around.

Multiple people living in Eleanor, West Virginia, have reported possible mountain lion spottings in the area during late June.

The posts received a lot of attention on Facebook, and many other locals joined the social media frenzy to post about their own potential mountain lion sightings.

Possible sightings

Notes: The mountain lion has several nicknames, including “cougar,” “panther” and “big cat.
All quotes are taken directly from the source’s written statement and not re-typed by the author of this article.

“The mysterious BIG CAT is still running around in town. It has been spotted in several different locations (unless there is more than one).

The original post I saw was saying it was spotted on one of the backstreets, then my grandson saw it up at the locks. A few days later my daughter saw it in the center of town in her yard on [State Route] 62, and this morning around 3:30 a.m. my husband saw it as he was going to work crossing 62 from the school over onto the big Red House property. It’s making its way around into the middle of town now.”

Pam Jividen Swett, of Eleanor, West Virginia (Spotting allegedly occurred in Putnam County on June 22, 2022)

“True story: 10 years ago I was coming home from my [high school] girlfriend’s house around 10:00 p.m. one evening, driving my old blue Chevy. That thing had terrible headlights, could barely see 50 yards in front of the bumper, but that night it lit up just enough. As I was coming out of Midway and about to cross the small bridge that spans Little Buffalo Creek, I saw a mountain lion come up from the right hand side of the road, walk across the highway, and slip under the guardrail on the left side of the road, headed for the Kanawha River. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that’s what I saw. For starters, it was taller than the guardrail, and could have easily jumped it instead of going under. And the tail, there was just no mistaking it. As thick as a pop-can and it looked like it was twice the length of the cats body. Instantly recognizable.”

Will Legg, of Fraziers Bottom, West Virginia (Spotting allegedy occurred in Putnam County in 2013)

“Not long ago, I had mentioned that on one of our many trips from PA back down to visit family in Charlotte NC, I remembered looking out the passenger side window down into a ravine well below the side of the mountain highway in WV and suddenly seeing what looked like a female African lion walking along the railroad tracks. By the time it registered what I was looking at, we were too far past to stop. Amazed and puzzled, I didn’t mention anything at the time. This would probably have been in the 1990s and either on the section of I-79 soon before getting on to Route 19, or somewhere on Route 19 near the northern end, long before getting off near Beckley. … It was a long time later before I realized that what I had seen was not a female African lion but a mountain lion.”

Jean Claar Bassett, of Charlotte, North Carolina (Spotting allegedly occurred on either Interstate 79 or State Route 19 in the 1990s)

Pocahontas County: ‘Cougar Central’

A western mountain lion. (Getty Images)

The West Virginia Encyclopedia says the last mountain lion killing was reported out of Pocahontas County in the late 1880s.

In 1936, possible cougar tracks were found in Pocahontas County and reported to the National Museum of Natural History.

Furthermore, two western cougars were captured in Pocahontas County in 1976. Western mountain lions are not native to West Virginia, and the two cougars had been taken to the area and released in the state before they were found.

Wildlife officials: No eastern mountain lions in West Virginia

Although locals swear they have seen mountain lions, the WV DNR says the creature no longer exists in the state. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also considers the mountain lion extinct in West Virginia.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, the mountain lion has many other names, including “cougar,” “panther,” “puma,” and “catamount.”

Specifically, the eastern mountain lion was the subspecies previously native to West Virginia. The West Virginia Encyclopedia says the eastern cougar became extinct as European settlers moved to the area, saw the animal as a threat, and killed them. The last recorded mountain lion killing was in 1887 in Pocahontas County, according to the West Virginia Encyclopedia via a statement from naturalist A.B. Brooks.

In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended that eastern cougars be removed from the endangered species list. In 2018, after seven years of public comment and professional research, the Fish and Wildlife Service declared the eastern mountain lion extinct and removed it from the endangered species list.

Mountain Lions at the West Virginia Wildlife Center

Even though the WV DNR says there are no wild mountain lions in the state, there are some held in captivity at the West Virginia Wildlife Center in French Creek.

The West Virginia Wildlife Center is open to the public seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $6 for ages 16 and over, $2 for kids 6 to 15 years old, and free for children ages five and under.

To learn more information, call (304) 924-6211 or visit the WV DNR’s webpage on the wildlife center. A map of the center can also be viewed by clicking the provided link.