BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (WIAT) – Carole Baskin always talks about all the “cool cats and kittens.”
Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue and a central figure on the hit Netflix show “Tiger King,” spoke to CBS 42 about a possible cougar sighting in Birmingham’s Crestwood neighborhood. Resident William Davis claimed on Saturday he saw a cougar behind Crestwood Mall.
“I’m at True Story Brewing and just saw a black puma walking along [the] wall behind Crestwood Mall, âDavis said on the Nextdoor community website. “Huge !!! I was not alone, seen by others too. Watch your critters and your children! Scary!”
Residents made dozens of comments on the post, some skeptical of the sighting while others worried.
In an interview on Tuesday, Carole Baskin touched on the possible puma sighting.
âThey are often called mountain lions in the west. Here in Florida, we call them the Florida Panthers, âshe said. âMost places call them cougars. People in South America call them pumas.
Baskin said a potential issue with the reported sighting is that the pumas are not black. Baskin said, however, that they can appear darker than usual when the sun begins to set.
âThey don’t come in black,â she said. “Sometimes when seen at dusk they look darker than they actually are, but they’re not really melanistic like a black leopard or a black jaguar would be.”
Cougars don’t typically live in the wild in our area, she said.
âCougars have been hunted to extinction in most of the United States,â she said.
Baskin said it’s possible what Davis saw was actually a puma that looked black, but it could also have been a black leopard, or something else.
âIt could be a cat that escaped,â she said. âIf it’s a black leopard, the leopard is the smartest of all cats. They’re the best breakout artists, and once they’re out they’re really hard to catch.
Baskin said cats can be very tall.
âThey can range from a 60- to 70-pound cat here in the South to a 300-pound cat in the Rocky Mountains,â she said. âHe’s a big cat. A very big cat.
She said it’s not uncommon for other cats to be mistaken for cougars.
âMost of the people reporting cougar sightings here in Florida have actually seen bobcats,â she said.
Bobcats, Baskin said, have “a short tail or a half tail” while cougars have a long tail.
âBut when someone sees a cat this sizeâ¦ they’re usually pretty excited and don’t care about the length of the tail,â she said.
However, cougars are sometimes kept as pets. Baskin said Alabama is one of four states that have no big cat pet laws. She said state law requires rabies vaccination for pets, but there is no species-specific rabies vaccine for large cats.
“That would make it basically illegal, but Alabama turns its back on it and says it’s not its problem because it doesn’t regulate them,” she said.
Baskin is advocating for a new federal law called Big Cat Public Safety that would ban cub petting and phase out the private property of big cats.
âPeople who live around big cats don’t keep them as pets,â she said. âOnly here where we have so much Disney-fied the idea and have these romantic notions about people having this wonderful connection to the cat. Because you see it on social media. What people don’t understand is is when they see these pictures, they are people showing off with kittensâ¦ As soon as they are adults, they will kill you like they would kill their own parents in the wild to take back their habitat. “
Recently, Netflix announced that there will be a second season of âTiger Kingâ coming out later this year. However, Baskin said she would have no part in it.
“I told them to lose my number,” she said, adding that the way she was portrayed in the first season was “an absolute betrayal.”