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

Written by: Lindsey Lawson

Last Updated on June 9, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

Bobcat sitting on rock with moss in a forest

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

There may be six species of wild cats 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, also 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.

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The bobcat (Lynx rufus) is about twice the size of your typical housecat, and the males are slightly larger than the females. They are found in every state in the United States except for Delaware and are widespread throughout the entire state of North Carolina. Although they have a large population, they are rarely seen by humans thanks to their elusive nature.


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

Bobcats get their name from their unique, bobbed tails that only reach about 5 inches long. 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.

They have tufted ears and dark bars on the forelegs, and they look much like their close relative, the Canadian lynx. They range from about 24 to 40 inches long and weigh anywhere from 10 to 30 pounds.

bobcat in the forest
Image Credit: milesz, Pixabay


Bobcats are carnivores like all other cat species on the planet. They are avid hunters who 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 various 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 as whitetail deer, but it is much rarer.

Habitat and Behavior

North Carolina provides 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 various habitats across the nation.

Even though they 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. They are solitary felines and only come together to mate. Though bobcats can live past 10 years of age, it is rare. The average lifespan of bobcats in the wild is 3 to 5 years.

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History of the Eastern Cougar in North Carolina

The cougar, 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 cougar subspecies throughout the nation.

Only two 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 extinct for several years.

The decline in the Florida cougar and the extinction of the Eastern cougar resulted from habitat destruction, hunting, and a rapid decline of their primary prey, the whitetail deer. All of this resulted from 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 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 the 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 remains the only one. The Eastern cougar used to live in 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

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