Big cat encounters on the rise

Published 6:00 am Friday, September 21, 2018

Since Byron Crawford’s article appeared in Kentucky Living Magazine about the book project I completed, Panther Tales and Other Woodland Encounters, I have heard from a wide variety of people. Panther Tales II is more than half complete as stories continue to come in. I would welcome any story that someone has to share with me on this subject from Kentucky or any surrounding states.

Recently, while at the Pine Mountain Settlement School Fair Day, I gathered several good eyewitness accounts. Then someone told me about a recent attack on two pit bulls that left one dead and one injured, and a family cat ripped in half. I went to talk to the pet owner in person after the fair. She had contacted the appropriate officials. They confirmed that the attack, based on the wounds and the footprints found in and around her garage were indeed those of a very large cat such as a cougar. The prints were too big for a bobcat. They may have been from a black panther, but officials still deny the existence of such a creature.

A friend forwarded me a link on Facebook to a news report from Tennessee, confirming at least nine documented cougar sightings in western and central Tennessee. In the report, David Ball states, “At least nine cougar sightings have been confirmed. TWRA said they will be monitoring the natural expansion of the cougar. According to TWRA cougars, once they establish a home range can be up to 150 miles. They can travel up to 600 miles or more to find that home range.”

Let’s do the math. Tennessee and Kentucky are bordering states. From the documented sightings, Kentucky is within the 150-600 mile range that a cougar may travel. These big cats don’t have a map to limit their roaming and borders are meaningless.

It is also illegal to hunt and kill cougars. The TWRA on their website state, “Tennessee law protects all animals for which no hunting season is proclaimed, the cougar is protected in Tennessee. It is illegal to kill a cougar in Tennessee except in the case of imminent threat of life and injury. Also, if a landowner is experiencing property damage made by wildlife, that landowner has the right to protect his/her property.”

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife says on their website, “Mountain lions are easy to distinguish from other large cats in North America by their large body and long tail. The short, tawny brown fur that covers most of their body easily blends with most surroundings. Short black fur covers the backs of the ears, the tip of the tail and the sides of the muzzle. Mountain lions have sharp, curved claws to help them climb and bring down prey. Mountain lions usually retract their claws when walking.”

Body length: 5 – 8 ½ feet Ear length: 3 – 4 inches Tail length: 21 – 35 inches Weight: 90 – 160 pounds

Behavior: Mountain lions are solitary animals except during the breeding season or when females are raising kittens. The young typically remain with their mother for 2 years. During this time, the young animals learn from their mother how to hunt and survive. Once the family breaks up, subadult males may travel (disperse) hundreds of miles in search of a new home range.”

I’m all for protecting wildlife in their natural habitat. However, in the case of the slaughtered pets, the I’m glad to know there is a law is in favor of protecting personal property. “Per KRS 150.172, a person may kill any wildlife in self-defense or defense of another person. Any mountain lion killed or found dead in Kentucky must be surrendered to the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife within 24 hours for genetic testing and physical examination.”

Reach longtime Enterprise columnist Judith Victoria Hensley at judith99@bellsouth.net or on Facebook. Check out her blog: One Step Beyond the Door.