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Wildlife Officers Respond to Mountain Lion Sightings

May 14, 2009

ROGERS, Ark. – Carlos Sinclair set up a game camera in a field near a pond to catch snapshots of deer roaming his property, but instead he caught a picture of a creature that’s rarely seen in Arkansas.

State wildlife officers say wild mountain lions, cougars or panthers don’t exist in the natural state. “It is our state position that the mountain lions that are here are most likely released or escaped cats,” said Game and Fish officer Myron Means.

At one time wild mountain lions did roam freely in Arkansas, but the population was wiped out by the early 1920s when Arkansas was settled. “There has been no evidence of the Florida Panther in Arkansas since the 1920s and no evidence of a wild mountain lion in Arkansas since 1975,” said Means.

But on average the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission receives 100 reports of mountain lion sightings each year.

Sinclair lives in rural Madison County near Wesley. He said that in December of 2008 he saw a mountain lion sitting on a pond bank. “It was a pretty good sized cat,” said Sinclair. He checked his game camera and found that he had captured two pictures of the big cat.

40/29 News has received reports of other mountain lion sightings, but none with pictures to back up the claims.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has said that wildlife biologist must have specific evidence to verify a mountain lion sighting, such as track marks. If a picture is taken of a big cat, officers want to go to the scene and investigate the relationship of the camera to the background.

The most recent verified mountain lion sighting was when a cougar that was caught on a game camera in the Winona Wildlife Management area near Hot Springs. The picture clearly shows a mountain lion. Another verified mountain lion sighting was in 2003 in Carlisle near Little Rock. A mountain lion was struck by a car and wildlife officials were able to analyze the feline. The cat was declawed and also had a scar on its ear where a tag once looped through its ear.

“We do recognize they are out there, but we do not recognize there is a viable reproducing population of wild mountain lions,” said Means. Wildlife officers believe if a resident spots a mountain lion, it’s most likely a cat that’s been released from captivity.

According to a 2002 study by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, 150 cougars were living in the natural state as pets. Officials have no idea how many of those cats may have escaped into the wild.

As for the big cat caught on camera in Madison County, Means said he believes it is probably a former pet. “It looks like a mountain lion, without a doubt. But, as a wildlife biologist, I don’t have the evidence to validate that sighting and I certainly don’t have the evidence to validate it’s a wild mountain lion.”

Means said the closest wild mountain lion populations are in Florida and Southern Texas. He says it’s unlikely that a member of those cat communities would travel as far north as Arkansas. However, Means also said a confirmed wild mountain lion was recently killed in Bossier City, La., not too far from the Arkansas state line.

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