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Are There Wild Cats in North Carolina? Pictures, Facts & History

Bobcat sitting on rock with moss in a forest
Image Credit: Unexpected_Images, Shutterstock
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Lindsey Lawson

There may be six different species of wild cat that are native to North America, but only one wild cat species currently exists in the Tarheel State. While the state used to be home to more than one species, the only wild cat that calls North Carolina home is the bobcat.

The Eastern cougar, which also was referred to as the Carolina cougar is said to have gone extinct in the 19th century. In this article, we will talk more about the mysterious, elusive bobcat and delve into the history of the Eastern cougar and how it managed to disappear.

Click below to jump ahead:

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The bobcat (Lynx rufus) is about twice the size of your typical housecat with males being a bit larger than females. They are found in every state in the United States except for Delaware and are widespread throughout the entire state of North Carolina. Though their numbers are healthy, and they are a plentiful species, they are rarely seen by humans thanks to their elusive nature.


Size:24 to 40 inches (Body) 4 to 7 inches (Tail)
Weight:10 to 30 pounds
Lifespan:3-4 years (males) 4-5 years (females)

These cats get their name from their unique, bobbed tails that only reach about 5 inches in length. Their coats are soft and variable with colors ranging from grayish brown to brownish red with a spotted pattern.

The underbelly is white, and their massive paws stand out considerably, especially considering their size. These cats have tufted ears and dark bars on the forelegs. They look much like their close relative, the Canadian lynx. They range from about 24 to 40 inches in body length and weigh anywhere from 10 to 30 pounds.

bobcat in the forest
Image Credit: milesz, Pixabay


Bobcats are obligate carnivores like all other cat species on the planet.  They are very avid hunters that use stealth and patience to obtain their meals. They can run up to 30 miles per hour and pounce up to 10 feet.

North Carolina is home to a variety of animals that make up a bobcat’s diet, including squirrels, rabbits, rodents, birds, and any small prey they can catch. Bobcats have been known to take down prey as large and whitetail deer, but this is much rarer.

Habitat and Behavior

North Carolina offers up the perfect habitat for these adaptable cats. The state is full of mountainous areas, forests, and coastal plains. Though bobcats thrive well in forested areas, they are known for making their home in a variety of habitats across the nation.

Even though they are known to wander into suburban areas, they are rarely observed by humans and like to remain secretive and unseen. They are most active during dawn and dusk, which is their time to hunt. These cats are solitary and only come together to mate.  Though bobcats can live past 10 years of age, this is rare. The average lifespan of bobcats in the wild is anywhere from 3 to 5 years.

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History of the Eastern Cougar in North Carolina

The cougar, which is also commonly referred to as the mountain lion, used to be found all over North America. Before their numbers plummeted during the 18th and 19th centuries, there were 11 subspecies of cougar throughout the nation.

Only two of the subspecies were found east of the Mississippi River, the Eastern cougar and the Florida cougar. While the Florida cougar still inhabits southern Florida in very small numbers, the Eastern cougar has been believed to have gone extinct many years ago.

The decline in the Florida cougar and the extinction of the Eastern cougar was the result of habitat destruction, hunting, and a rapid decline of their primary prey, the whitetail deer. All of this was the result of human settlement and unfortunately, these beautiful creatures never recovered.

Bobcat stands up at a branch
Image Credit: Geoffrey Kuchera, Shutterstock

Sightings and Endangered Status

While the Eastern cougar has been considered extinct in the state of North Carolina for many, many years, they fall under protected status as an endangered species in the state according to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

While the NCWRC receives reports of cougar sightings and cougar tracks, there is no verifiable evidence that these animals still exist within the state. Most of these sightings are the result of misidentification related to either domesticated pets or other wildlife.

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While there used to be two types of wild cats in North Carolina, the bobcat is the only one to remain. The Eastern cougar used to inhabit the state but ultimately went extinct. The chances of seeing any wild cat in North Carolina are very rare because though the bobcat has plentiful numbers and is found all over, they are very elusive and seldom seen.

Featured Image Credit: Unexpected_Images, Shutterstock

About the Author

Lindsey Lawson
Lindsey Lawson
Lindsey and her husband enjoy traveling the US with their kids and photographing wildlife. Her passion is to educate others on the importance of proper animal care, with an emphasis on reptiles and exotics since their care requirements can be much more complex. She is also a huge advocate for bully breeds. She feels most at home in the forest either on horseback or in hiking boots.

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