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Arkansas records first mountain lion in modern times

An automatic camera picked up the cougar in west-central Arkansas.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.--A hunter's trail monitor has discovered what years of searching by state officials could not--the first mountain lion in modern Arkansas history.

Don Scott of Little Rock got the surprise of his life in August when he looked at pictures taken by the infra-red-activated camera he placed near Winona Wildlife Management Area between Little Rock and Hot Springs. They showed an adult mountain lion padding through the forest.

The sighting follows close on the heels of Missouri's second confirmed mountain lion occurrence in a year. Cougars killed by cars near Kansas City last October and Fulton in August brought to seven the number of officially confirmed cougars in the Show Me State since the first modern occurrence in 1994. The Arkansas sighting confirms that state's nickname, "The Natural State."

Officials with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission spent several years in the 1980s and 1990s identifying possible cougar habitat and then hired a professional hunter from Texas to scour those areas with his hounds. Hunter and hounds came up blank. This, together with the lack of road kills or other concrete evidence, led the Game and Fish Commission to conclude that Arkansas had no free-ranging mountain lions.

When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approached Arkansas officials about the possibility of participating in efforts to restore the Florida panther, a rare subspecies of mountain lion that once roamed the Gulf Coastal states, they declined, noting the potential for conflicts with the state's human population.

Arkansas officials note that while the photos of the mountain lion confirm its presence, they don't provide any clue to the animal's origins. They say more than 100 cougars are kept as pets in Arkansas, and without more information they can't rule out the possibility that the cat in Scott's photographs either escaped or was released from captivity.

The Game and Fish Commission says The Natural State likely has some free-ranging cougars but how many and where they are coming from is still a mystery. That echoes statements by Conservation Department officials in Missouri. They speculate that mountain lions might be migrating east from Texas, Colorado or South Dakota, which have established cougar populations. The east-flowing Missouri and Arkansas rivers provide convenient travel corridors for young male cougars dispersing from their birth areas to establish territories of their own.

Arkansas once was home to the Florida panther, a Southeastern subspecies of mountain lion. The Game and Fish Commission maintains that this subspecies has been extirpated in Arkansas and no longer exists there.

"Any mountain lion in the wild in Arkansas is not an endangered Florida panther unless proven otherwise," said Game and Fish Commission Communications Director Nancy S. Ledbetter.

- Jim Low -

 

 

 

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