Photos show La. cats; give Natchez mystery validity

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 14, 2008

NATCHEZ — Two recently taken photographs have provided the newest confirmed documentation of cougars in Louisiana, and have lent some legitimacy to recent sightings in Natchez.

In early and late September, trail cameras in Natchitoches and Allen parishes took photos of the golden cats.

The last confirmed cougar sighting in Louisiana was in 2002.

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And in the past five months, at least two locals have reported spotting cougars across Adams County.

After the first Natchez sighting, in June, Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries exotic species program leader Richard Rummel said the chances of actually seeing a cougar in the area were close to zero.

But September’s evidence does lend some credence to the fact that the cats seen in Natchez could have actually been cougars, Rummel said.

While Rummel said there has not been a confirmed cougar sighting in Mississippi in over 100 years, the new photos do suggest they could be in the area.

But Rummel said it’s highly unlikely those cougars are staying in the area.

Instead, Rummel said, the cougars in the photos have either escaped from captivity or are simply cougars on the move.

Those roving cougars are called disbursing animals, meaning they’ve left a larger breeding population.

The Louisiana department’s large carnivore program manager, Maria Davidson, examined the sites where the photos were taken and said aside from the photos there is no evidence of the cats to be found.

“There is zero physical evidence,” Davidson said.

Davidson, like Rummel, said if there were a breeding population in either area there would be some physical evidence — killed prey, prints or dead cougars in the form of road kill.

Davidson said one area of Florida with a known population of approximately 100 cougars normally loses 15 cats a year to road traffic.

“We don’t have anything like that,” she said.

And Rummel agreed.

While the cougars aren’t likely to have originated in the area, they could have come from a great distance to get here, Rummel said.

Rummel said there’s a population of cougars in West Texas that has been spreading east that could account for the cats seen in the region.

And Rummel said a cougar heading east could swim across the Mississippi River.

Davidson said cougars, tracked with radio collars, have been known to cover hundreds of miles.

And while Davidson and Rummel said the chances of spotting a cougar are slim, Rummel still has hope.

“We’d love confirmation,” he said.