Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Newton County Cougar

I came across an interesting article that originally appeared in the Beaumont Enterprise back on November 30, 2009 regarding the resurgence of cougars in east Texas. You can read the original article here.

The story centers on the encounter of Newton County resident Gwen Canty. According to the article, Canty, "With nothing more than a rake, her arms, and loud screams beat into submission a cougar that had reached through a pen to claw flesh and rip tendons from her new 8-month old filly, Mo." Canty, who lives near the tiny community of Bleakwood, managed to save her young horse, and its leg, by getting it to a Jasper veterinarian quickly. Canty said she had heard stories of cougars roaming the woods near her home but always considered them to be legends. No longer. Mo is home again but Canty now arms herself whenever she is outside. "I have a 9 mm pistol on my hip now," said Canty, "It's stuck to me like glue."

Gwen Canty's encounter is more spectacular than most but it illustrates what is going on with the lion population of East Texas. First, it must be conceded that there is a population of these big cats in the region. The second thing that must be realized is that this population is growing. The article quotes John Young, a wildlife biologist with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, as saying, "Historically, cougars have been found across Texas but are most common in the western and southern portions of the state." A pretty typical statement from the Texas Parks & Wildlife to be sure. However, Young went on to add, "We speculate there may be a few cats scattered around the eastern part of the state." That is a huge admission. For once, a representative of the TP&W did not fall back on the "It was an escaped pet" theory. Young also said, "The department's estimate is there are about 1500 cougars statewide based on habitat modeling studies."

Mr. Young is correct in that the majority of these big cats are going to be located in the far western or southernmost parts of Texas. However, cougars are far-ranging cats that can cover hundreds of miles. To acknowledge the populations of west and south Texas yet say a breeding population in any other part of the state is not possible is ludicrous. Kudos to Mr. Young for being reasonable, logical, and, most importantly, forthright.

It is my opinion that the cougar is making a striking comeback for a couple of reasons. First, the deer and feral hog populations are very healthy. There is no shortage of game in any part of the state. Simply, if there is a strong prey base the possibility of predators feeding on it is strong. Second, as I've stated before in other posts on big cats, I think the cougar has, like the coyote, learned to exist in populated areas. To be sure a big cat would prefer to live as far away from people as possible. However, when survival is at stake animals tend to adapt. I think these mountain lions are surviving in numbers greater than suspected and are living in areas more urban than anyone would imagine. This would explain the sighting of large cats near Plano and Lewisville last year. I also offer the article below that recently ran in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

Could a cougar be on the prowl in Minneapolis?

After a handful of sightings in the suburbs, a "big cat'' was spotted crossing a road in northeast Minneapolis.

Last update: January 11, 2010 - 11:31 PM

On Monday morning, a man went to the 2nd Precinct headquarters to report he saw a big cat crossing the road in northeast Minneapolis. It comes on the heels of ones in Prior Lake, Eagan, Champlin, Vadnais Heights, Stillwater and western Wisconsin.

"We've had plenty of sightings out in the suburbs, but this appears to be one of first times that one has come into the city limits," said Sgt. Jesse Garcia, a police spokesman. The report prompted a call to the Department of Natural Resources.

Norm Mosher was driving home from work at Target Printing about 8:20 a.m. when he saw what first appeared to be a dog near the Mississippi River at St. Anthony Parkway and NE. Marshall Street.

"They got a pathway for pedestrians there, so it's got to be someone out walking their dog," said Mosher, 56.

But he kept looking for the person and never saw anyone. And then he noticed the way the animal was walking and its fat tail, and he didn't think it could be a dog.

By the time he turned around, the animal was gone. But Mosher, who grew up on a farm in Elk River and continues to hunt, stopped to check out the tracks. He admits he's no expert, but he cites three reasons to believe he saw a young cougar:

• No marks or claws or toenails were in the tracks. Dogs have their nails sticking out.

• It appeared the animal was dragging its tail in the snow, and dogs don't do that.

• Some of the tracks went down an embankment, and it appeared the animal jumped 8 feet. "I don't think a lab could have jumped quite that far, so to me it makes sense."

Garcia urged anyone who sees a cougar to call police or the DNR. "We want people to be cautious,'' he said. "Cougars are wild animals, and they can act spontaneously."

Though this article is discussing an area far from Texas, it makes the point that more and more big cats are being seen in urban environments.

Cougars are making their way back into east and central Texas. Be vigilant and keep those cameras handy. You might get the shot of a lifetime...even if you live in the suburbs.

1 comment:

  1. Like most "models" TPW's is a bit anorexic. The Cooke County game warden told my Brother-In-Law he'd had over 30 reports of cougars in the 2009 deer season in Cooke alone. I know we have them in N.Eastern Montague Co because I've seen one on the road here at dusk, A friend hunting our farm has spotted one from his deer blind at dawn, and my Father saw one in broad daylight that stared at him from the side of the road when he stopped his car and stepped out to look (On FM677 just before the Illinois Bend spur) My pet theory is they are preying on our abundant deer and feral hogs.