Thursday, April 21, 2005
Bill Cochran's Outdoors: Mountain lions are back -- maybe
Bill Cochran's Outdoors
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- The good and bad of the 2012 saltwater fishing season
- Column archive
Bill's Field Reports
- Virginia General Assembly goes soft on outdoor issues
- Quail Unlimited calls it quits
- Field reports archive
Mountain lions are back! At least back in the news and in the minds -- even the imaginations -- of outdoorsmen.
Take Dave Coleman, for example. On the way to work from his home in Daleville, Coleman was near the I-81 truck scales in Botetourt County when he spotted what he described as “some kind of big, black cat.”
A mountain lion?
“I couldn’t hardly believe my eyes,” said Coleman. He began searching the Web for information on mountain lions, remembering that roanoke.com hiking/weather columnist Kevin Myatt had written about spotting a mountain lion while on a hike along Hoop Hole Trail in Botetourt County. Coleman figured he needed to be in good company to convince his friends that he’d seen an illusive cat.
Mountain lions tend to divide people. You either are a believer or scoffer. There isn’t much middle ground. It’s the same with UFOs.
Coleman’s “big, black cat” (most are described as being tawny) was one of a flurry of observations reported recently. There have been mountain lion features in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and The Winchester Star.
Having covered this subject for more than 30 years, I’ve noted that mountain lion sightings are cyclic. One seems to spawn another. Still, there has been very little tangible evidence that this species, also called cougars and panthers, roams our woods and fields.
Outside of a pocket of lions in southern Florida, the big cats officially are considered extinct in the East. The last one confirmed in Virginia was killed in Washington County in 1882. Yet people like Coleman and others swear they have seen one, and that includes some experienced outdoorsmen.
My question always has been, where is the tangible evidence: a picture, a lion killed by a vehicle on a highway, a lion treed by one of the numerous packs of bear or coon hounds that hunt the back country of the state?
“I would have expected some hard physical evidence if cougars existed in the state,” said Rick Reynolds. He is the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries biologist assigned to keep up with cats. “When I look at my map of reported sightings the animal has been seen just about everywhere in the state,” said Reynolds. “With that kind of distribution you would think a body would show up somewhere.”
The people who report observing a big cat are seeing something, of course. It is difficult to discount someone like Gilbert Dance of Colonial Heights, who was along the Nottoway River in Sussex County last fall hunting with a muzzleloader. When he stepped into a small clearing beside a swamp, he said a mountain lion joined him.
“I wouldn’t have been more shocked if I had seen an elephant standing there,” he told the Times-Dispatch.
There have been so many spottings reported in Frederick County that Barbara Chaplin has formed Cougar Quest, an organization to document claims of mountain lion sightings in the area.
Until the sightings are documented with more evidence you will have a difficult time finding a wildlife biologist who believes that mountain lions inhabit Virginia. Biologist Reynolds says no one has documented a single big cat in Virginia, much less a population.
Even so, he is anxious to hear reports and can be contacted via the DGIF Web site: dgif.virginia.gov. DGIF is keeping a database of potential sightings, but does little more than that in the way of mountain lion research. “However, if someone came up with strong evidence -- good photos, video or a body -- we would investigate the incident,” said Reynolds.
If you would like a more sympathetic ear, try the Eastern Cougar Foundation Web site: easterncougar.org.