Mountain Lion in Texas
Currently (February 2015) a mountain lion has been spotted near the southern shores of Lake Travis.
When I was ten years old, growing up in rural Texas, I was followed home by a mountain lion one night. I feel that I've been living on borrowed time ever since.
Mountain lions are extremely reclusive and an encounter with one is rare.
When I was a little girl, from age 5 to age 15, I lived way out in the country near a river, deep in the heart of Texas. My mother allowed me to roam alone over 500 acres and along the riverbanks from early in the morning until dark. In those days we never gave a thought to human predators the way we do now.
We lived so far off the beaten path that only one car a day might drive past our house. If we heard a car coming down the road, we all ran to the front windows to see if we knew who it was or if they might be coming to visit us.
Our house was located off a gravel road at the end of a long driveway, the kind with two dirt ruts with grass and weeds growing in between. Our only close neighbors were the Whites, with two boys near my age. In the summer, every Friday night I was allowed to walk up the hill to their house after supper and play monopoly with them. One night about 10:30 the game was over and I walked home alone as usual.
As I walked down the gravel road toward home, my only thoughts were probably about the two boys who lived on the hill. One was my age, 10, and his brother was two years older. I actually had a crush on the older boy, but because of his great age, he was far out of my league. Benny, the 10 year old, was blonde and his older brother Billy had black hair, and they both had beautiful sky blue eyes.
Anyway, I walked along with my innocent thoughts through a dark summer night, with only the stars and a sliver of moon to light my way. Far down the hill I could see the lights of our house.
I suddenly became aware that the sound of my footsteps had changed; there seemed to be an echo, but no, not an echo. Something else. There was the expected crunch of my shoe on the gravel, followed by a soft but heavy padding sound, not loud, but subtle. My attention sharpened and became intently focused on these sounds.
Crunch … pad ... Crunch … pad ...
The hair rose on the back of my neck. This really happens; it’s not just fiction. The hair on the back of my neck stiffened and stood up. My arms were covered in goosebumps. My legs weakened and started to quiver.
Some instinct (that came from I know not where) spoke clearly in my head:
"DO NOT RUN. Walk slowly and calmly as though you are unaware that something is following you."
Something heavy. Something so far outside my range of experience that I wasted no time speculating. I simply concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other and Not Running.
I reached a daunting obstacle, our cattle guard, a grid of rusty iron pipes. Once before I had slipped and fallen through the cattle guard. I wasn’t hurt but my leg was trapped and my dad had to come out and dislodge it. I knew deep in my bones that if I slipped and fell, it would all be over. I stepped onto the first pipe, then the next, then the next, and I was over the cattle guard. I now had the long driveway to contend with. Since the driveway was dirt, not gravel, the sounds of our footsteps changed.
My footstep … pad. My footstep … pad. Still there.
I neared the front porch. I was almost to the steps. I couldn't maintain my calm! In a mad burst I leapt for the steps with only one coherent thought in my head. Oh please momma let the door be unlocked. Oh please.
It was unlocked. I was inside. I whirled and slammed the door shut and fell into hysterics. My mother was agitated, saying, What’s wrong? What’s wrong? I could not string the words together to tell her.
I became aware that our two dogs were barking frantically. They probably started barking before I reached the porch but I hadn’t registered the sound. Their barks had a frenzied shrill overtone I had never heard before. They were huddled up in the corner where the porch jutted out from the house. I struggled to get out of my mother’s arms. I had to go out and get the dogs before it got them. My mother held onto me with all her strength. You are not going out there, she ordered.
We had no phone. We had no weapons. All we had between us and "it" was a flimsy screen door and a thin wooden door. My mother got the butcher knife from the kitchen and we all huddled in the living room. Finally the sound of the barking dogs changed, as Butch, the big dog, moved away from the house. Next we heard cattle lowing back up on the hill where I had been visiting. The sides of the cattle pen thudded with the weight of the cattle slamming against it as they milled in circles, bawling in fear. Then we heard the boom of a shotgun. Then silence.
Still we huddled together, my mom, myself, and my two younger brothers. None of us wanted to go to our separate beds. Mother finally left us long enough to gather quilts and pillows and we all slept on pallets on the living room floor. Still she would not let me go outside and check on the dogs or even crack the front door to let them in. I cried and cried for the sake of the dogs and finally fell into a troubled sleep.
About 6:30 the next morning, our neighbor Mr. White came down the hill and banged on our door. He told mother that a mountain lion had been bothering his cattle the night before and that he saw it clearly in the floodlight he had on a pole near the cattle pen. He shot at it and missed. Next he said that Mr. Blue, a rancher north of us, had called him earlier that morning, and said that five of his sheep were killed during the night.
All I cared about were the dogs. The big one, Butch, was fine. He was a brave mutt, short-haired, white with some black spots, and we always counted on him to protect us. The little one, Buster, a rat terrier, black and tan, was nowhere to be found. I cried a fresh new batch of tears, convinced that the mountain lion had carried Buster away. We searched and called all that day to no avail.
The following day Mother crawled under the house with a flashlight and there was Buster, okay but quivering with fear, stuck tight head first in a big pickle jar. He had wedged himself in so tightly that Mother had to break the jar with a hammer to release him. Buster shook with fear for the rest of the day. Poor little Buster.
Here's a link to a really good hubpage article about mountain lions: http://wesmantoddshaw.hubpages.com/hub/The-Cougar-Panther-or-Mountain-Lion-Americas-Second-Largest-Cat
Here's a good article from the Texas Parks and Wildlife about mountain lions. It includes a map of their range and information about what to do if you sight a mountain lion (an extremely rare occurrence). http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_br_w7000_0232.pdf
An informative hub: http://liambean.hubpages.com/hub/Danterous-Beasts-American-Mountain-Lioin
Here's an update, from KEYE TV Austin, Texas June 14, 2012:
Cougars Again Spreading Across Midwest & South Into Texas
(AP) -- A new study suggests cougars are again spreading across the Midwest a century after the generally reclusive predators were hunted to near extinction in much of the region.
The findings by a University of Minnesota doctoral student, a Southern Illinois University wildlife ecologist and the Cougar Network are detailed in the latest Journal of Wildlife Management.
The study showed 178 cougar confirmations in the Midwest and as far south as Texas between 1990 and 2008.
Confirmed sightings of Midwest cougars were sporadic before 1990, when there were only a couple. The study shows that number spiked to more than 30 by 2008.
Sixty-seven confirmations were in Nebraska, 31 in North Dakota, 12 each in Oklahoma and Texas, 11 in South Dakota and 10 in Missouri. Other states had single-digit tallies.
Texas Game Wardens say if you encounter a mountain lion:
- Pick all children up off the ground immediately.
- Do not approach the lion.
- Stay calm. Talk calmly and move slowly.
- Face the lion and remain in an upright position.
- Do not turn your back on the lion. Back away slowly.
- Do not run.
- Do all you can to enlarge your image. Do not crouch down or try to hide.
- IF the lion is aggressive, throw rocks, sticks, or anything you can get your hands on.
- If the lion attacks, fight back. Fighting back can drive off lions.
Protect your pets. Do not let them out unattended at dawn or dusk if you live in a rural area or near woods and streams. Mountain lion sightings are rare, but one may be hidden nearby, watching for an opportunity for an easy meal.