Resident spots cougar on Hutchins Landing RoadPublished 12:01am Friday, March 28, 2014
NATCHEZ — A pair of bright yellow eyes staring back at Michael Mascagni was the first sign the animal standing on the side of Hutchins Landing Road was nothing he had seen before.
The next was a long, howling scream the Natchez resident could only relate to the sound of a woman screaming at the top of her lungs.
“That’s when I knew what it was — a cougar,” Mascagni said. “It looked like the biggest cat I’ve ever seen, and the sound just made me stand up and go, ‘Oh, my Lord.’”
Mascagni believes he spotted the animal March 21 at nearly 10 p.m. on his way home to his Hutchins Landing Road.
The cougar, he said, had just walked across the road and was making its way onto a side road before the headlights of his SUV stopped the animal briefly.
“It looked like bright, yellow diamonds looking right at me,” Mascagni said. “We see all kinds of animals living out here, but that just gave me an eerie feeling seeing that.”
By Mascagni’s rough estimation, the cougar measured two feet in height and four feet in length and had a big, round tail.
Mascagni arrived at his house minutes later and told his wife, Jennifer, and two children what he had just seen.
The description sounded awfully familiar to Jennifer.
“I told him I was pretty sure I had seen the same animal walking across the road earlier when I was coming home,” Jennifer said. “When I saw it, I knew it didn’t look like a fox or anything like that and I thought it looked strange.”
The conversation slowly winded down in the Mascagni household as Nicholas, 5, and Michael, 9, prepared to go to bed.
A sound Mascagni dismissed as sound effects coming from the television quickly brought the cougar back into conversation when his children turned off the television.
“I heard what sounded like a woman screaming, and it was loud,” Mascagni said. “I walked outside and heard it one more time, but then it stopped.”
The next day, Mascagni walked down to a creek that runs through his property and found two sets of paw prints — one with the cougar’s claws retracted and another with its claws out.
Mascagni took photos of the prints and began talking to his neighbors to see if they had seen or heard anything similar to his experience.
“One of my neighbors heard the same scream, but no one actually saw it,” he said. “But now everyone is on the look out.”
Mascagni said he and other neighbors are setting up game cameras that will hopefully catch the large cat in action.
“They’re very elusive animals, so I just want to capture it on camera and see it again,” he said. “I don’t want to hurt it. If it was threatening my children, that might change, but right now I don’t want to kill it or capture it.”
Ricky Flynt with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks said there have been no confirmed sightings of a cougar in Mississippi since 1900.
Flynt said when the majority of sightings similar to Mascagni’s are reported, it turns out to be a bobcat, large dog or even a coyote.
“The likelihood is very slim, but it could certainly be possible,” Flynt said. “We get a lot of similar types of phone calls, and most of them end up being a bobcat.”
Flynt said the bright shine of a bobcat’s eyes are similar to that of a cougar, as are the loud screaming sounds the animals can emit.
“Bobcats have a very wide range of vocalization, especially during breeding season, which we are in the middle of right now,” Flynt said. “They make a lot of odd sounds.”
Because of the frequency of the calls from across the state, Flynt said MDWFP officials don’t initially investigate cougar sightings before examining photos of the animal or prints.
Frequent cougar sightings were reported in Natchez in June 2008 and were reported regularly for several months.
A couple visiting the area spotted what they believe was a cougar while staying at Cedar Grove Plantation on Kingston Road in April 2009.
Residents also reported seeing a black panther in town.