WOOD COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - Cougar, Puma, Panther or Mountain Lion. By whatever name you call them, the big cats roam East Texas and occasionally encroach upon populated areas. I have covered numerous "cat" sightings over the years, and always with some skepticism. Until I found out that I may have one living in my own backyard.
At my 16 acre farm in Wood County, over a couple of years, I have had chickens and several barn cats disappear periodically. I always chalked it up to foxes or coyotes...until I discovered big cat prints on my property.
"We do believe we do have a population of Mountain Lions in East Texas," said Charlie Muller, a wildlife biologist with Texas Parks & Wildlife. "Mountain Lions generally are looking for bigger game animals; [like] deer [and] feral hogs. They can on occasion take interest in smaller animals a little easier catch."
One of the main reasons why I think I have a big cat on my property is that their main prey is white tail deer. Full grown, it's a 130 to 150 pound cat, and all muscle. I keep donkeys, chickens and pigs. Am I ringing a dinner bell?
"[It's] possibly a young male separated from a female," said Muller. "[It] may have just found some easy targets for food and have moved into that area. The worst thing you can do is run because their instinct is to chase their prey."
The giveaway for knowing I wasn't seeing dog or coyote prints is that there were no claw marks above the toes. Cats have retractable claws.
"It's almost four inches across," said Muller.
I found the tracks only a few hundred yards away from my backdoor, and my neighbors up the road have had a close encounter.
"My wife and I were walking," Jerald Langford began. "This cat was sitting right in the middle of the road. She said, 'what are we going to do? There's a Mountain Lion sitting in the road.'"
It might explain where my animals have gone. You may never see one in your lifetime, but still.
"They're here," said Langford. "Just in case."
We spoke with the Wood County sheriff's office who told us they routinely get a couple of Mountain Lion sightings each month. Game officials say Mountain Lion numbers have increased because of the increase in the White Tail Deer population in Texas.