BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Carole Baskin is still talking about all the “cool cats and kittens.”
Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue and a central figure on the hit Netflix show “Tiger King,” sat down with CBS 42 about a potential puma sighting in the Crestwood neighborhood of Birmingham. On Saturday, resident William Davis claimed he had seen a puma behind Crestwood Shopping Center.
“I’m at True Story Brewing and I just saw a black puma walking along [the] wall behind the Crestwood Shopping Center,” Davis said on the community website Nextdoor. “Huge!!! I wasn’t alone, witnessed by others as well. Watch your critters and children! Scary!”
Residents have made dozens of comments on the post, some skeptical of the sighting while others were concerned about it.
In an interview Tuesday, Carole Baskin discussed the possible puma sighting.
“They’re often called mountain lions out west. Here in Florida, we call them Florida panthers,” she said. “Most places call them cougars. People in South America call them pumas.”
Baskin said one potential issue with the reported sighting is that pumas aren’t black. Baskin said, though, that they can appear darker than usual as the sun begins to go down.
“They don’t come in black,” she said. “Sometimes when they are seen at dusk they look darker than they really are, but they’re not truly melanistic like a black leopard or a black jaguar would be.”
Cougars also don’t typically live in the wild in our area, she said.
“Cougars have been hunted to extinction in most of the U.S.,” she said.
Baskin said it’s possible that what Davis saw was actually a puma that seemed black, but it could have also been a black leopard, or something else entirely.
“It could be an escaped cat,” she said. “If it is a black leopard, the leopard is the smartest of all of the cats. They are the best escape artists, and once they’re out, they’re really hard to catch.”
Baskin said that the cats can be very large in size.
“They can range anywhere from a 60 to 70-pound cat here in the South to a 300-pound cat up in the Rocky Mountains,” she said. “They’re a big cat. A really big cat.”
She said that it’s not uncommon for other cats to be mistaken for cougars.
“Most of the people who report sightings of cougars here in Florida have actually seen bobcats,” she said.
Bobcats, Baskin said, have “short tails or half tails” whereas cougars have long tails.
“But when somebody sees a cat that size…they’re usually pretty excited and don’t pay attention to how long the tail is,” she said.
However, cougars are sometimes kept as pets. Baskin said that Alabama is one of only four states that have no laws on the books about keeping large cats as pets. She said a state law does require rabies vaccinations for pets, but there is no species-specific rabies vaccine for large cats.
“That would essentially make it illegal, but Alabama just kind of turns their back on it and says that’s not their problem because they don’t regulate them,” she said.
Baskin is advocating for a new federal law called the Big Cat Public Safety that would ban cub petting and phase out the private ownership of big cats.
“People who live around big cats don’t keep them as pets,” she said. “Only here where we have so Disney-fied the idea and have these romantic notions about people having this wonderful bond with the cat. Because we see it on social media. What people don’t understand is when they see those images, it’s people that are showing off with kittens… As soon as they get to be adults, they will kill you just like they would kill their own parents in the wild to take over their habitat.”
Recently, Netflix announced that there would be a second season of “Tiger King” that would be released later this year. However, Baskin said she won’t have any part of 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.”