Brittney Lohmiller | The Natchez Democrat — Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Park employee Ricky Flynt sets up a motion detector camera next to Michael Mascagni’s camera in hopes of getting an image of a cougar on Mascagni’s property.
Brittney Lohmiller | The Natchez Democrat — Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Park employee Ricky Flynt sets up a motion detector camera next to Michael Mascagni’s camera in hopes of getting an image of a cougar on Mascagni’s property.

Wildlife experts investigate cougar sighting

Published 12:04am Wednesday, April 2, 2014

NATCHEZ — Coyote and fox tracks were all Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks officials found trekking through Adams County woods Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean a bigger critter isn’t still out there.

Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Michael Mascagni shows Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks employee Richard Rummel where Mascagni found tracks that might be from a cougar on his property. On March 21, Mascagni saw an animal with bright yellow eyes, a long tail and later heard a long scream that sounded similar to a woman screaming.
Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Michael Mascagni shows Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks employee Richard Rummel where Mascagni found tracks that might be from a cougar on his property. On March 21, Mascagni saw an animal with bright yellow eyes, a long tail and later heard a long scream that sounded similar to a woman screaming.

The two MDWFP representatives ventured to Michael Mascagni’s Hutchins Landing Road house Tuesday after seeing photos he took of paw prints left behind from what he believes to be a cougar.

Mascagni spotted the animal March 21 at nearly 10 p.m. on his way home, and ventured down to a creek near his home the next day to find various paw prints in the mud, including one he believes was left by the cougar.

Ricky Flynt with the MDWFP said representatives from a Florida wildlife agency, where a small population of wild cougars exists, contacted him after seeing the paw print photos online.

“They said the print appeared to be that of a juvenile, male cougar or some sort of large cat,” Flynt said. “Because there was nothing else in the photo to see the print to scale, we wanted to come down and see if could find that print or any other news one might have made.”

Getting the call from the wildlife representatives, Mascagni said, helped reassure him of what he saw and heard that day driving to his house.

“All I could say was, ‘Wow,’ when they called me,” Mascagni said. “I know what I saw and I have nothing to gain from making up something like this, so to see them interested in the print photo was great because it means what I saw was real.”

Flynt and Richard Rummel with the MDWFP ventured to the creek near Mascagni’s house Tuesday morning and first inspected a game camera Mascagni put out last week hoping to catch a glimpse of the animal.

A red fox, gray fox and raccoon appeared on the 74 pictures the game camera took from Thursday to Tuesday, but not the creature that left the large paw prints.

Heavy rains that came through the area Thursday and Friday night, as well as a light rain Monday night, washed away any possible new tracks the animal might have left, Rummel said.

“There are still some tracks of other animals, but not the one in the photo,” he said. “It’s definitely a cat, there’s no doubt about it.”

The MDWFP has never confirmed an official sighting of a wild cougar in Mississippi, Rummel said.

The closest a wild cougar has been spotted to Mississippi was in 2008 when a male juvenile made its way from central Florida to Georgia.

“Although it’s very rare, instances like those make it possible that one could have ventured this far,” he said. “I did the calculations once, and for a cougar to come from southern Florida, where they are most prevalent, to the Mississippi state line would be 600 miles, and that includes them crossing the Mobile Bay.

“It’s a significant distance they have to travel, but it’s just a matter of time before they begin expanding in various directions.”

After exploring the stretch of the creek on Mascagni’s property, as well as other wooded areas, the MDWFP officials set up their own game camera near the one Mascagni placed. The officials will come back next week to check the cameras.

“If we can have two cameras right there where the original tracks were left, we can double our chances of possibly getting a photograph of it,” Flynt said. “Right now, we just want to see it on camera. If the folks in Florida wish to capture it and tag it, we’ll assist in any way we can but that will be up to them.”

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.