Feed on


The Statesman

A mountain lion in far East Texas?

Mike Leggett, Commentary

DEEP EAST TEXAS — I got the photo more than a week ago, a tiny image on my cell phone but plainly a mountain lion.

Now mountain lions, cougars, catamounts, panthers, pumas or whatever you want to call them are nothing new to Texas. They’re in the mountains of the Trans-Pecos and the thickets of the South Texas Brush Country.

I get lots of phone calls and e-mails suggesting they are other places as well. A good number of these reports come with photos that look like a lion is dragging a deer around, or drinking at a concrete pila or wandering down a trail to somewhere else.

I’ve learned to be skeptical of most lion reports, especially the famed black panthers of the Piney Woods. There are no such animals, though they’re reported constantly to Texas Parks and Wildlife biologists. The reports are more common than Bigfoot and Chupacabra sightings but are no less fanciful.

This latest sighting, though, has folks at the parks and wildlife department believing that it actually exists. The evidence is a single, overexposed digital image of a tawny brown, long-tailed cat caught on a trail camera at a feeder near Deadwood in Panola County.

“It’s real,” says Gary Calkins, district biologist for the Piney Woods region. “All of our investigation says it’s real. We sent a biologist to the site. We measured the scale at the feeder, and we think it’s real. It looks to be an adult male.”

I’m not so sure. I can’t say definitively that no adult mountain lion is walking around the river bottoms of East Texas, where it would be living almost exclusively on white-tailed deer, but let’s just say I’m queasy about embracing it 100 percent.

Now, Calkins is not queasy about it.

“We went at this with quite a bit of skepticism,” he says. “But I firmly believe that cat walked in front of that camera in Panola County.” For legal reasons, Calkins says he cannot release the name of the camera’s owner, but he noted that the man approached the parks department with the photo and didn’t seem to be trying to attract attention to himself.

Using contacts I have in Panola County, I’ve tried to arrange a meeting with the person who first took the photo to parks and wildlife folks. So far, no luck.

Meanwhile, in the outdoor community here, the photo has ignited tremendous discussion, both about its legitimacy and the possibility that a breeding population of mountain lions could be lurking in the hollows and bottom lands along the Sabine River.

“We’ll try to look for that cat to show up on another camera in the area,” Calkins says. “It’s probably not a captive cat, but if it turns out to be, we’ll probably see a bunch of pictures of it right around there. That one picture so far is it.”

Calkins says there’s no evidence of a breeding population of big cats, and there is no indication where this cat would have come from.

Male mountain lions do travel long distances, outlining territory and looking for females during breeding season, but this one would have had to travel a tremendous distance over rivers and through woodlands to get here from real lion territories in southern Oklahoma and South Texas.

If this cat is real, evidence will surface. Texas hunters invest something like 2 million hunter days a year in the woods of East Texas. As elusive as they are to the eye, big cats eat large and leave footprints.

Nobody around here can remember anybody killing a lion, although Calkins says there was a reliable sighting about five years ago in Hardin County to the south.

None of this bodes well for the cat, if there is one.

“There would be no prohibition on killing the cat, and if something does kill it, we’d like to see the cat to get measurements and check body condition,” Calkins says.

Meanwhile, you can almost bet there will be an increase in the number of sightings. Of what remains the question. A mountain lion? Or a black panther that actually was a dog, raccoon or bobcat.

Comments are closed.