They Do Exist at Our Little House

As I’ve blogged many times, one of the things we love about where we live is the plethora of wildlife.

However, in the 7 years since we built Our Little House and in the 3 years since we’ve been here, I haven’t seen anything but deer, fox, raccoons, armadillos and one dead coyote. Dale has seen a bobcat.

As they say, sometimes you just have to be a little patient.

I turned down our road on Tuesday after doing some errands banking, going to the post office and renewing our vehicle and boat registration. It was about 11 a.m. and while I usually hope to see something – such as a black bear – when coming down the road in the dark, I really wasn’t expecting to see anything in the middle of the day.

Suddenly, a tan figure appeared from below the mountain at the side of the road to my right and quickly ran to the other side of the road. My first thought was a deer, given the color, but my mind quickly switched gears upon noticing the long, curling tail with a white tip.

It turned to look at me and I realized then I was looking in the face of a very large cat.

It was what the department of wildlife will typically tell us doesn’t exist here, a  mountain lion, about a mile away from Our Little House.

The cat I saw looked just like this one, only with a white tipped tail

I stepped on the brakes and watched it run up the side of the mountain until it was completely out of sight. Of course, I didn’t have my camera.

I was in awe of its’ beauty and so excited, as that was the first large cat I had seen outside of a zoo. When I picked up the cell phone to call Dale to tell him the news, I was out of breath. He was excited for me, as he is usually the one on the road, and gets to see the animals.

Since our wonderful dog, Emma, went missing in August and people planted in our minds that she was probably taken by a wild animal, most likely a mountain lion (also known as a cougar or panther), we’ve heard dozens of stories that have grown into local legends.

Some of the reports have them as black, some tan. Other people have had their chickens and dogs go missing, one neighbor even lost two large dogs in one afternoon. The story goes that she heard a yipe from each one and went out to see what happened. No trace of either was ever found, it was that quick. One family in our area reportedly moved back to the big city, Harrison, when a cougar decided to lounge in the summer sun – right in their front yard – while their toddlers played in the back.

I wrote in June about hearing something in the middle of the night that locals tell me is the scream of a large cat and I also heard that same sound the morning Emma disappeared.

A wildlife official has since told me that is also a rural legend.

Until now, no one I personally know had seen a cougar on our road and now I know that there is at least some truth to the local sighting legends and I suspect the department of wildlife are the ones also wrong about the noise they make.

I know now they DO exist here, for sure, I know what I saw and I’m pretty sure I know what I’ve heard.

What is the most exciting wildlife encounter you’ve had?

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30 Responses

  1. Amy says:

    Kerri,

    They do exist here in Arkansas and they can be beautiful however still a royal pain in the tush.

    About a year ago I was walking home from my fathers it was about 10PM there were about 5 of our resident farm cats playing in the light of my flashlight and around me feet Suddenly they all just froze. I pointed the light in the direction they were all looking… about 10ft ahead of me stood a Mountain Lion. I don’t know which one of us was the most freaked. It let out it’s scream and ran off in the woods. I stood there for a second gathering my wits until I noticed that every single cat had long since vanished too then I quickly ran the rest of the way to my little cabin. I called the local Game and Fish officer the next day and he told me that there were no big cats up here. I told him he needed to take another look cause I knew what I saw was real. Since then we have spotted him and another one a couple of times. The one I came so close to we think is a bit too used to humans cause he seems to like getting too close for comfort. Oh and the GandF officer crossed paths with him back in the Spring. LOL He gave me that chance to say “I told ya so!” shortly after that.

    Amy

  2. Years ago on the ranch down at the South Forty corral we seen and heard a cougar on the hunt. We headed out of there fast, for we didn’t have our guns with us. I have heard them when they killed a couple of cows below Green Mountain Oregon near the town of Buxton. Awful screem.

    I have pictures of deer eatting apples, standing on two feet reaching for leaves on a non-fruit tree, doing its duty, eatting corn and taking sunflowers from the bird feeder. We enjoy the deer in our subdivision. I love wildlife!

  3. Mo says:

    Our state denied the existence of Wolves for years. “Big Coyotes.” Now they say we have (only) two established packs though they spend a lot of time dealing with flock and herd kills in areas they don’t exist…

    The folks we purchased our land from had a Colt killed by a Cougar. It was very sad as she was unable to do anything about it though the Colt was tethered within rock throwing distance of her trailer.

    A Cougar was captured well inside the Seattle city limits this year – Discovery Park.

    I’m all for capture and relocating to where they aren’t. I think Central Park in NY could use at least a mating pair.

    • kerri says:

      I think the reality is that the depts. of wildlife in any state has limited resources to deal with reported sightings. Still, they shouldn’t be giving out blatantly erroneous information for any reason. We have no wolves here, but plenty of coyotes.

  4. Olivia says:

    On our little island, until recently, all we had were foxes, skunks, raccoons, chipmunks, etc – and the odd garter snake. Very safe. Now we have coyotes that came over the ice (11 km.) a few years ago.

    BUT – very rarely (thankfully), a great white shark will venture into our northern waters. My neighbour’s father-in-law caught one several years ago and her daughter wears one of its teeth on a chain around her neck.

    • kerri says:

      I think some of the most beautiful creatures in the world are some of the most dangerous. Sharks fall into that category for me.

  5. Alexandra says:

    Wow! How exciting! Thanks for sharing this.

  6. Lorinda says:

    I saw a black bear this summer at The Lake of the Ozarks. He crossed a gravel road right in front of me around dusk. He was coming up from the water (no I hadn’t been drinking, but he had…water! LOL!). My family doesn’t believe me, but I know what I saw. He was black, fairly large, and lumbered up the hill. I couldn’t grab my camera in time to get a picture. It was pretty exciting!

    But…my scariest encounter with wildlife happened years ago while mushroom hunting at Shawnee Mission Park. I was ready to put my foot down when I heard rattling! I looked down to see a Prairie Rattle Snake, all coiled up, looking at me, tongue hissing, tail rattling! I have never run so fast in my entire life! I ran for what seemed miles, screaming my head off. Of course, my husband had taken off in another direction, looking for morels! I haven’t gone mushroom hunting since…but I’ll eat all the ones he finds! LOL!

    • kerri says:

      Lucky you, Lorinda! I always hope that my first black bear sighting will be from the relatively safe enclosure of my car, rather than face to face in the woods or our yard! Rattlers can be scary, we have plenty of those here.

  7. Heather says:

    Since I live in an urban area of Tacoma, Washington, our most exciting wildlife siting here has been an opossum who scared my beagle half to death. However, on a recent trip to Port Townsend, to the north, we saw deer picking apples of a tree in a residential front yard.

  8. Wow. How exciting and/or scary. Lilly and I have seen a mtn lion three times since we moved to the mtns. We were on foot, so it was a bit scary, but also thrilling.

    Check out a local friend who blogs in the mtns north of us. They are much more remote, and she has motion-activated wildlife cameras that catch still and video footage of EVERYTHING — mtn lions, bobcats, coyotes, bears, etc.

    http://romp-roll-rockies.blogspot.com/

    • kerri says:

      Thanks for the link, Roxanne! I will check that out. Dale and I were discussing motion activated wildlife cameras again last night. It is on our list. We don’t have a need/want for very much, but this is a definite. The recession put our plans for these on hold, but hopefully, we can get a couple soon.

  9. Kathleen Winn says:

    In Missouri, the Dept. of Conservation set up a special task force to investigate mountain lion sightings. Over a ten year span, they were able to confirm seven actual sightings. I have good friends who work for the Conservation Dept. and they get very frustrated with conspiracy theories that claim they are “planting” mountain lions throughout the state and then denying that they are here.

    The fact is, before they will confirm the presence of a mountain lion, they have to make sure there is irrefutable evidence-footprints, a clear photo or something that is absolutely, undeniably solid evidence. Unfortunately, a reported sighting is just not enough. I don’t doubt at all that you saw a mountain lion, Kerri, especially given the kind of wilderness area you live in. But- when we bought our land here ten years ago, we quickly discovered that everybody and their cousin had spotted mountain lions. If there were actually as many mountain lions as people claimed, they would be as common as white tailed deer and we’d see them as road kill all the time.

    My own brother still insists that his wife saw a mountain lion in a field in back of their house. This, despite the fact that a Conservation wildlife biologist came out and went to the exact spot where she said she saw the mountain lion. There were fresh tracks and the agent pointed to the fact that the tracks showed both pads of the feet and points where claws had made marks. He explained that cats do not have their claws extended as they walk, but dogs do, their claws don’t retract like a cat’s, so they always show up in footprints. I think this is why Conservation people get frustrated, because it’s more exciting for people to think they saw a mountain lion than a big dog, so some will insist that’s what it was in spite of all evidence to the contrary. However, they have confirmed that at least seven reported sightings were legitimate.

    Missouri Dept. of Conservation has a website devoted to explaining how they investigate mountain lion sightings and why it’s important for them to be absolutely certain before declaring a sighting to be valid. http://mdc.mo.gov/conmag/2006/06/mountain-lions-missouri

    We have seen bobcats at our land and I’m convinced that many people in our area are mistaking them for mountain lions. They have a blood curdling scream like mountain lions. They also are much bigger than I’d imagined, and unless you can see their short, curly tail, it would be easy to think it’s a mountain lion.

    I like to think there are still these amazing wild creatures surviving despite the ongoing urbanization of rural areas. The Conservation dept. considers them “extirpated” in Missouri, which means they do not believe there are actual breeding pairs in the state- most likely some are wandering through from other places (like Arkansas)and they know that a good number also are the result of people who illegally obtain mountain lion cubs, then set them loose when they become too big to deal with. Having said all this, I’d be as thrilled as you were to someday actually see one- however- nobody will believe me because I’m always the one doubtful of anybody else’s claim to a sighting! Hope I’ve got a camera handy if it ever happens.

    • kerri says:

      Kathleen, I realize there must be good wildlife officers and ones who are not so wonderful. After Emma went missing and people kept telling me that what I heard that night was probably a big cat in “pounce” mode, I called our state office and asked to speak with the expert on mountain lions in the state. He called me back and told me three things and I took notes as if I were writing an article, so I know I remember the conversation right: 1). We do not have native mountain lions here, if we have them at all, they’re pets that have been turned loose. 2). Big cats do not make a screeching sound, what I most likely heard is a screech owl. 3). Cats will not attack, nor do they eat dogs. Mind you, this was supposed to be the expert on cougars for our dept. of wildlife. I’ve since learned all of the things he told me are absolutely incorrect. Which leaves me to wonder if a). He is ignorant and if so, why is he the state’s “expert?” or b). If they’ve been told to lie to the public as to not cause a panic or for other reasons.
      I’m a journalist. I have to be convinced, but something is up with the dept. of wildlife here and what they tell the public.
      If there are cougars in Texas and Nebraska (I’ve read several stories recently in which wildlife officers in those states have killed them), then reason tells us they are in neighboring states: OK, AR, MO, since wildlife don’t know boundaries. I’ve always wondered, too, if people were confusing bobcats with mountain lions/cougars and now that I’ve seen one, there is no confusing them. The tails are very different. If you read the articles on road kills, mountain lions are rarely hit by cars in *any* state. The one I saw, at least, seemed to react differently to my vehicle than a deer would, it seemed to be aware of my being there, while deer and other animals just dart out. Maybe this is not why they are hit more. But I wouldn’t dispute anyone, especially someone who has lived in the country for years, that they’ve seen one. Anyone who knows wildlife would not confuse this with a bobcat.

      • Kathleen Winn says:

        Kerri- I don’t know how anybody could confirm from a sighting, whether or not a mountain lion was “native” or a released pet. Conservation agents can only do it if they are able to examine the animal’s feet, which will show whether there is wear on pads and claws from walking on cement in a cage. I’m not sure how that can be conclusively considered “incorrect” on the part of the agent. I do know that in Missouri, they have found that the majority of confirmed mountain lions were in fact, released pets. In one case, the mountain lion walked right up to the agent who was investigating the sighting. I think that also would explain the case of a woman who had one wander right into her yard and lie down near where her children play. That is not normal behavior for any wild animal, but mountain lions in particular are reclusive and secretive, not likely to walk into someone’s yard in broad daylight unless they had been conditioned to be unafraid of humans.

        As to the screeching, have no idea why he or she would say that, but I have a feeling that just as I think there are people who mistake a bobcat for a mountain lion on sight, there are a fair number who also think a screech owl’s call is a mountain lion’s scream. I also don’t know why he would say that a mountain lion wouldn’t attack a dog, since there are many, many cases of them attacking dogs and humans both. According to my wildlife biologist friend, the Conservation dept. (at least in Missouri) has absolutely no agenda or secret motive to mislead people about mountain lions, but they are held to a high standard of proof when it comes to confirming the presence of such a dangerous predator.

        David and I actually did once see a mountain lion in the wild, but it was in the San Juan mountain range at 3:00 A.M. in the morning on our way to the Grand Canyon- and I’m going to have to disagree as to whether people could be confused between a mountain lion and a bobcat. It wasn’t until we had our land that I actually saw a bobcat in the wild, and I was struck by how large they are and similar to a mountain lion in build. I guess that probably depends on a lot of things- like whether there is light enough to see them clearly and how close you are to them, but it seemed to me that it would be easy to confuse the two. Again- having said all this, I think it’s very cool that some of them are still living and that you got to see one up close. I have no doubt as to your own encounter with one, partly because you live in true wilderness, not at the edge of a city or urban area.

        • kerri says:

          I had no idea that mountain lions screeched until a guide on the Buffalo National River told us about it. I’ve since heard a screech owl and compared that to recordings on the Internet of what is said to be a mountain lion. Again, two very different sounds. As for the bobcat/mountain lion thing, anyone who saw the tails would know. While bobcats are bigger than a house cat, they’re no where near the size of what I saw yesterday. Maybe the cougar you saw was a young one? At any rate, as with sightings of coyotes and bears in the suburbs these days, I don’t think sightings of cougars can be confined to wilderness areas such as ours, as exampled by this article from Nebraska just this week:
          http://www.rapidcityjournal.com/news/article_ddfef83c-dbcc-11df-88c9-001cc4c002e0.html
          This sighting and ultimate killing of a cougar was just 3 miles outside of the city. I receive alerts on wildlife stories each day and have read of at least three killings of mountain lions in NE in populated areas and 1 in TX in the past month.

          • kerri says:

            As for size, the two bobcats I saw outside of KC were comparable maybe to a large fox. As I wrote about Tuesday’s sighting, my mind registered it as a deer at first due to the color and size. It was that big. The difference I’ve seen in the size alone was very telling.
            Whether they have been or have not been pets, it really doesn’t matter. Once in the wild, their wild instincts take over and they’re just as dangerous.

          • kerri says:

            I’ll also be interested to see how you feel about your wildlife/conservation department after a few years of living in the country when you’ve needed to call them a few times. 🙂

        • kerri says:

          Another example of a cougar in a populated area. This time, in the Seattle area: http://www.seattlepi.com/local/6420ap_wa_lake_stevens_cougar.html

  10. Kim says:

    Wow. What a sight!

    I was hiking alone in the woods once and came upon two full grown deer. I came around a bend looking down, raised my head up, and nearly jumped out of my skin. I wasn’t more than ten yards from them. Deer are BIG up close!

    Other than that, my favorite was snorkeling at the reefs at Pennekamp State Park in the Keys. I felt like I was in a movie– it was that beautiful and that surreal to me.

  11. V Schoenwald says:

    Your instincts tell you that they are there where you live, and you are right. The government will never tell the truth about anything, including wildlife.
    We have had cats around here for a number of years, and now have more sightings in the western part of the state now, around Scottsbluff NE. There were two sightings last week around Scottsbluff, and both cats were killed by the government.
    The government tells everyone that you are just seeing a deer or a large domestic housecat….
    And if the stories are true that I read about and talk to people, its the government (whoever the dept is), is placing these cats into more urban areas, and for what purpose, I am not sure of, but I have a good idea why, but that is my opinion, but again, I don’t have a good opinion of government offices anyway.
    Sorry about the rant.
    They are beautiful cats, and you are lucky to have seen one. You never have a camera when you need one. Just get a little cord and put it around your neck where ever you go, Kerri. lol
    The only cat I have seen and heard were Bobcats, I seen a pair, which I was sure were a mom cat and a half grown kitten at my parent’s cabin years ago. I was hiking way back into the hills and there where a lot of canyons and cedar trees, and they were walking through the trees.
    They were beautiful.

    • kerri says:

      Vicki,
      I’ve been reading about the mountain lion kills in Nebraska, but none of the articles ever explain why the dept of wildlife is killing them, rather than tranquelizing and relocating them, have you read any reasoning behind it?

      • V Schoenwald says:

        The only thing that the government says (wildlife management?) is that they are located within an area where there are kids, and they just go in and shoot. This is Nebraska’s answer to animal control. I will tell you that the wildlife management has been releasing cats into the areas for years to control the huge deer population which has gone totally uncontrollable now. We have way too many deer/vehicle accidents and now there are too many fatalities with deer collision that the government doesn’t even know what to do. Hunting does not even control the population. I am not sure what the answer is. Some people eat venison, I personally cannot as my doctor’s advise says no because of the cronic wasting disease they carry that is out of control also. I have had deer walking down my street in the dark last year, they are so thick.
        If I get any more info for you, I will let you know. But anytime you ask the Game and Parks dept here about anything, they tell you it’s none of your business, and I tell them, it is as my tax dollars pay your salary. Then, you usually don’t get anywhere when you back them up againest the wall.

        • kerri says:

          Thanks. I wondered what Motivation the government would have in stocking cats in the wild. I hadn’t heard that.

          • V Schoenwald says:

            Stocking cats in the wild was the idea to control our out of control deer population, Kerri. And this was started over 20 yrs ago here in Nebraska.
            The deer are totally out of balance here. And no one is sure how to control it, as hunting doesn’t take out the amount needed to be controllable. But then, stocking cats is getting out of balance also… We do not have habitat that is suitable for cat populations except in the extreme northwestern part of the state up around Wildcat hills around Scottsbluff and going on up into South Dakota to Rapid City.
            When my mom had her quilting and needlework shop here, we had many rancher’s wives come in for handwork for the winter, and we had probably 10 ranches who reported having government wildlife workers on their land, releasing cats on to their land, most of these ranches are huge and are back to back so to speak so they know everyone, and ranch hands who would be out working cattle or fixing fence or windmills would come up on these wildlife workers with trucks and cages on private land. The ranches we have here and large, averaging from 5000 to over 20,000 acres, and are located in the north areas of Nebraska, called the “SandHills” a very unique ecological area. These ranches are also very old, some with 5-6th generation, so they are handed down in the families.
            I know that these ranch women didn’t lie. And a lot of these cats were disposed of, because of calf losses, we have coyotes too, but too many ranchers had losses from the cats being released in the spring, when calf crops started coming in March and too many cats were seen when ranch hands were working maternity duty in pastures.
            I think that it was an idea the went very south or it had other more sinister plans.

            I don’t have an answer. Well, I do, but again, it pertains to the government…..