Eileen Berger Indian Trail Master Naturalist
Have you ever seen a mountain lion? In 1987 my son and I were priviledged to see one. We lived on FM 813 near Rockett. I was driving my high school-age son to his trombone lessons. As we passed over the Grove Creek bridge and prepared to enter the next curve, a long, rangy-looking big cat crossed from east to west across the road and entered the ditch. He looked as if he completely covered the road width as he loped across. I looked at my son and asked him what he had seen, just to make sure I had seen the same thing. We continued on our way and I can never travel that stretch of road that I don’t think of that magnificent animal.
Cougar(Puma concolor), is also called mountain lion, panther, catamount or puma. According to a bulletin published by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, they are the most widely distributed wild cat from Canada all the way into South America. Our forefathers who settled Texas no doubt saw these animals more often than we ever will. Historical records indicate that sightings have occurred in all 254 Texas counties. However, mortality records indicate that the big cats now occur in 67 counties,most of which are in the southwestern part of Texas. Biologists use voluntary sightings and instances of cat mortality to document the presence or absence of this animal in an area.
The mountain lion is a large, slender cat with a long tail.They have a small head with a short face. Their hind legs are longer than their front one. They can leap as high as 18 ft. from the ground. They have a light brown coat, although they can appear gray or almost black, depending on the light. This may account for the reported sightings of “black panthers” which you may hear from time to time, especially in our westernmost part of Ellis County. The size varies from 6 1/2 ft. and 45-96 pounds for females to as much as 8 ½ ft. and 100-150 pounds for males.
Cougars are active in the morning and evening as well as at night. They are solitary except for a few days in the breeding season, which can occur any time of year. Most litters are born in the summer and fall and average 2-3 kittens. The babies stay with their mothers for a year or more, then leave to establish their own home ranges. The female only breeds every other year. The size of the territory will depend on availability of prey, the topography of the land, and presence of other lions. As with many other mammals, male lions will not tolerate another male in their range, which can vary from 80 to 200 square miles. Females’ home ranges usually vary from 20 to 100 square miles and can overlap.
Mountain lions are at the top of the food pyramid as are humans, and their only predator is man. They prefer to prey on deer, both whitetail and mule deer. They will also eat javelina, pronghorn antelope, feral hogs, bighorn sheep, raccoons, coyotes, porcupine, opossum, rabbits, and a variety of small animals. They will occasionally take livestock under 500 pounds. This includes calves, colts, sheep, goats, and domestic pigs. However, considering how few of these animals actually live in our area, most of our predation is probably from bobcats, coyotes, and raccoons, as well as packs of wild dogs. Their species is threatened by loss of habitat from deforestation in favor of agriculture, and extensive loss from hunting. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department welcomes reports of sightings or instances of cat mortality. That number is (210)472-5451