Cougar. Panther. Puma. Wildcat. Catamount.
But around these parts, we just call them mountain lions. And despite what you have been told by the “experts” over the years there are growing anecdotal and very personal stories about sightings and even real pictures of the elusive big cats hanging out in our parts.
In fact, they may be closer to your back door that you think.
A post on Inside Fort Smith Thursday afternoon asking our Inside Fort Smith Insiders if they had ever seen, photographed or encountered a mountain lion in western Arkansas or near eastern Oklahoma. In just over eight hours, the posted positive responses numbered almost 45. Coupled with nine people who either texted or responded via email or personal message, there are 54 people who claimed to have seen what they identified as a mountain lion.
With some people reporting multiple encounters, the number of sightings totaled close to 70. From Nicut, Oklahoma to Plainview and from the urban streets of Fayetteville to the wilds of Scott County, people are seeing something large, furry and stealthily slipping in and out of the shadows.
And, although one woman reported seeing what she thought was Bigfoot (turned out to be her husband in the backyard) and a few may have mistaken a large bobcat for the real deal, there are enough people who have spent time in the woods, know wildlife and have no reason to lie about what they have seen to make one thing certain.
The truth is out there, Somewhere. And so are mountain lions.
Alta Brandon: “Saw one on Hwy 10 on Washburn Mountain a couple of years ago. Ran across highway.”
Kristin Duncan “I saw one on Highway 59 (coming to Barling) coming home from work late one night.”
Kramer Steph In Mansfield! Seen one that was huge! We of course got the gun and scared it away. Haven’t seen it since. (We did not shoot it.) We lock the chickens up at night and keep the dogs inside as well.”
In 2015, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission finally admitted, after years of denial, that there were mountain lions in Arkansas BUT that any animals in the state were either “passing through” from one state to another or were the result of people who had kept a mountain lion as a pet and then turned them loose when they got to be too much to handle.
With a grown male mountain lion tipping the scales at 180 pounds and measuring six to eight feet in length, one can understand that at some point they outgrow the litter box.
Officials with the AG&FC declared just two years ago that Arkansas did not have anindigenous population of breeding mountain lines in the state. (More about that in Part Three of this series.)
Yet, despite the confirmed sightings and photographic evidence of free ranging mountain lions reported in every geographic corner of the state when you go to the AG&FC website and peruse the 121 animals listed on the “Wildlife by Species” list, mountain lions are nowhere to be found.
Lagatha Been: “My husband and I saw one south of Chaffee. No pics to prove it but we definitely saw it.”
David Winn: “They are here. Seen some myself.”
Anonymous (by email): “Please don’t use my name. We were in Fayetteville the first weekend in September for the La. Tech game and were fighting the traffic to get out. We always go up North Sunset and there is a little street (Vista Avenue) up there that cuts through to Wedington Drive. He had just turned the corner on that little street and one came out from behind a house and cut across right in front of our truck. I told my husband ‘Look…it’s the bad guy from The Jungle Book”. Looked solid black. Six or seven feet long. Great big.”
“Looked black” is a common theme, although to date there has never been a confirmed case of a melanistic (black) mountain lion anywhere in the United States. Puma concolor, the scientific name of the animals, means lion of one color. Adult mountain lions have a tan-colored coat — much like the African lion — but are slighter in build with a head that is smaller in proportion to its body. In the dark and under certain conditions (especially in rainy climates) the darker animals can appear to be “black” in color.
Mountain lions can:
• Bound up to 40 feet running
• Leap 15 feet up a tree
• Climb over a 12-foot fence
• Travel many miles at 10 mph
• Reach speeds of 50 mph in a sprint
And for every person that reports a sighting there are ten that report finding tracks, which are readily easy to identify.
Mountain lions have a distinctive “M” shaped pad with three lobes on the rear of the heel (dogs only have two lobes). Their claw marks do not show in the track. Walking, the cat’s hind foot steps in his fore track, creating overlapping patterns. Their toes slant — similar to human feet — indicating left or right foot. Dog tracks are more symmetrical, and the raised dirt in the middle forms an “X” shape.
Except for humans, the mountain lion has the largest range of any mammal in the Western Hemisphere. They are found from Canada to Argentina. In North America, they can be found from British Columbia and southern Alberta to Texas and other south central states. Small populations can be found east of the Mississippi River. The Florida panther is found in isolated populations in Florida.
Lisa Horton: “In Nicut, Oklahoma we had one that stayed on the roof. I thought my late son Kent Horton was joking until I came home late one night.”
April Parker; A good friend of mine lives down around the Hodgen/Cedar Lake area and they’ve had a big problem with them this year. I don’t know if she has any pictures, but if she does, I’ll send them to you.”
Eric Montgomery: “I was in a tent by myself up on Lee Creek one night when a mountain lion attacked some wild hogs in the woods right behind me. I nearly had an accident. The hair on my neck stands up to this day when I think about that sound.”
Opportunistic hunters, mountain lions typically hunt alone from dusk to dawn, taking their prey (primarily deer) from behind. On average, a lion will kill a deer every ten to fourteen days. They also dine on coyotes, raccoons, rodents, elk, feral hogs, and even porcupines. They may drag the meal to another area and cover it with dry leaves, grass or pine needles to protect the food from other animals and to reduce spoilage. A mountain lion may return to feed at the site over a period of several days.
They have also been known to attack dogs and other family pets. And on rare occasion, humans.
In Part 2 of “Mountain Lions in Arkansas?” we will detail the possibility of danger to humans from mountain lion encounters in the wild.