‘It was 100 percent cougar’ Mississippi family reports large cat on Natchez Trace Parkway

Published 3:47 pm Wednesday, June 14, 2023

It wasn’t until after their summer trip to Yellowstone National Park, that a Mississippi family said they witnessed a live cougar Wednesday morning.

The Freeman family, from Natchez, was driving down the Natchez Trace when the large cat ran out in front of Adams County Christian School Basketball Coach Matthew Freeman around mile markers 45 and 46.

“It was 100 percent a Cougar,” Freeman said. “It couldn’t have been more than 50 yards from me. It was a very light tan. It wasn’t black and it didn’t have any spots. The tail was three feet long. It took three steps and was across the road. It was moving with a long stride. No other animal is like that. I know what a bobcat looks like.”

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He said on their trip to Yellowstone they had looked for mountain lions and wolves. The ears on the cougar ruled out any possibility of it being a fox, Freeman said. Its tail was long and not big and bushy.

Freeman posted his story on Facebook to see if other people had seen any. Several people replied saying they had including ACCS football coach Seth Swilley who Freeman said was a bigger hunter and sportsman than he is. The responses gave him confidence in what he saw.

“I have always been skeptical. I know there are so many game cameras and if there are cougars or panthers they would pop up,” Freeman said. “I saw it with my eyes and no one will be able to convince me know that we don’t have any. I’m always skeptical about this stuff but it was definitely a cougar.”

Rumors of panther sightings, stories and tales are passed around in Mississippi but the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks has never reported an official sighting. There are some confirmed sightings of cougars in Tennessee and in Arkansas. Florida and Texas also have populations of cougars or panthers. In 2016, Louisiana had a confirmed sighting of a cougar near Morehouse Parish.

Mississippi State Extension Service Assistant Professor Leslie M. Burger wrote an article in 2016 about the history of black bears and panthers in Mississippi. Black bears have made a comeback in recent years along the Mississippi River in the delta from bears moving over from Arkansas and Louisiana.

Panthers, also known as cougars or Mountain Lions, and black bears once had healthy populations in Mississippi back when the state was covered in forests and swamps and before humans clear cut timber for farming purposes, she wrote.

Bears were hunted close to extinction and panthers were forced out of the state due to over hunting and habitat loss. Panther populations reside in Florida, Texas and other states out west according to Burger’s article.

Solitary big cat sightings “are common in the southeast,” Burger wrote. “Sightings could be attributed to misidentification, released exotic pets or (rarely) animals passing through from places like Texas where lions still live.”

MDWFP says people can send a photo of a sighting to their regional office or the Jackson office and a biologist can come out and investigate the sighting.

Have you recently spotted a black panther or have other rare sightings of animals on your trail cam? Contact The Natchez Democrat at hunter.cloud@dailyleader to share your story.