As reports of cougar sightings sighting keep coming in from more and more counties, it seems cougars are everywhere.
Here are sightings and counties reported by readers: Pulaski (5), Hot Spring (1), Ashley (1), Searcy (1), Cross (1), Columbia (2), Lafayette (3), Ouachita (1), Van Buren (1), Yell (1), Desha (1), Union (1), Bradley (1), Perry (1), Benton (2), Montgomery (1), Polk (1), Arkansas (2), and Sebastian (1).
That's 19 counties with 28 confirmed sightings. Five were said to be black cougars, and one was a female with two cubs. It's difficult to pinpoint the cougar hot spots, but southwest Arkansas certainly seems to have a breeding population. And as expected, most of the sightings were adjacent to dense timber, usually near major streams.
An estimate of the cougars would have to take into account that they are only found in the least populated areas of the state and are very shy about being seen. There may be cougars that have been spotted twice, especially in Pulaski County. But it is possible that each sighting is an individual cougar, and that the most populous county in the state has a significant population of big cats. And of course, we must realize that not everyone in the state reads my column, which doesn't appear regularly in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Since some of the areas of the state, especially in northwest and north central parts of Arkansas, are more remote and forested, I would have to increase my estimate of cougars in the state by at least a third, which would increase the possible number of cougars to 36.
Since cougars would normally be in the deepest of the remaining big woods and well away from any towns and farms, it would stand to reason we have spotted only about 25 percent of the cougars in the state. If you add the known sightings and extrapolate them to get a definitive number, it could increase to 100-125 cougars. That sounds as if we can spot a cougar on every corner, but knowing how many were actually spotted and then considering the deep woods in the Ozarks, Ouachitas, and the old growth timber along our major rivers, you might conclude I have underestimated the number.
Considering the above, it is clear that cougars are present in our state, and not just a big cat or two that escaped from cages.
Photographs clearly show full-grown cougars prowling the woods. One of them, taken by James Mitchell in Yell County, has a clear image of a large cougar that has just killed a feral hog. It was shown to the Game and Fish Commission, which tried to trap the cougar, but was unsuccessful.
There were other sightings reported to the Commission which essentially went ignored, and as we know, its official statement is that these cougars have escaped from a zoo or circus or they were pets, and there isn't a breeding population in the state.
The Game and Fish Commission should recognize the obvious:
- There are probably over 100 cougars in the state, and there is a breeding population.
- There should be regulations to protect the small population of cougars that are essential to the restoration of a balanced ecosystem. Feral hogs are a part of the cougar's diet, and we all know feral hogs are a huge problem in the state.
- Currently, as noted a couple of years back when a hunter killed a cougar in Bradley County, there are no penalties in place to protect the animals. The regulations should specifically prohibit the killing of cougars, and place a penalty equal to the amount that is placed on poaching an elk in northwest Arkansas.
- Mother Nature is doing her best to return a balanced ecosystem to our state by filling the predator vacuum with cougars, coyotes, bobcats, and bears. We should be helping in this restoration by protecting the cougars, closing bear season, discouraging the shooting of coyotes and bobcats, and putting a bounty on feral hogs.
We can never expect to have a completely balanced ecosystem in our state unless we have large predators. Our quail are gone because the predators that held down the population of scavengers that eat quail eggs have been eliminated.
If you want to see the cougars protected, the feral hog population reduced, and a drop in Chronic Wasting Disease in our deer herd, let the Game and Fish Commission know you care about a balanced ecosystem in our state. Send your mail to Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, 2 Natural Resources Drive, Little Rock, AR 72205 or call (800) 364-4263.
The Commission is doing a great job in restoring our turkey, deer, and bear populations. Our fishing lakes are some of the best in the nation, and the Commission represents the best interests of our hunters and fishermen of our state. I served on the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission with Steve Wilson, the former executive director of Game and Fish, and I can tell you from knowing Steve that the Commission is undoubtedly at the top of anyone's list of agencies in the state. However, they do need to recognize that cougars roam our woods, and they need to be protected.
Richard Mason is a registered professional geologist, downtown developer, former chairman of the Department of Environmental Quality Board of Commissioners, past president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, and syndicated columnist. Email email@example.com.
Editorial on 09/16/2018
Print Headline: Arkansas cougar sightings continue