Search for cougar continuing

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 21, 2008

NATCHEZ — Although the Natchez Trace hasn’t yielded any alleged cougar sightings in days, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has not forgotten about the big cat.

On Saturday, the department’s exotic species program leader Richard Rummel was in Natchez meeting with residents who said they’ve seen the animal.

Rummel said he wanted to get a first-hand account of exactly what was seen by those who say they saw the cat.

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In addition to meeting with residents, Rummel also inspected the areas near where the animal was seen to look for any evidence of its presence, specifically tracks.

“I didn’t find anything,” Rummel said.

Rain on Friday made some areas too muddy to find any distinguishable tracks and could have washed any tracks for creek beds in the area, Rummel said.

While Rummel was in town, he met with Jim Easterling and Ricky Smith. Both men say they saw the cougar in nearly the same area within a 24-hour period last week.

After looking at maps of the area, Rummel said the spot where each man said they saw the animal is only about three quarters of a mile apart “as the crow flies.”

After meeting with Smith, Rummel said, he’s of the mind-set that if a cougar is in the area, it’s not likely wild.

In the Smith sighting, Smith was loading hunting gear into his truck when the cougar came into view.

Both Smith, who majored in wildlife biology, and Rummel said it’s not the nature of a wild cougar to approach noise.

“They’re very elusive,” Rummel said. “Chances are you’ll never see (a wild) one.”

Both Rummel and Smith say they believe the animal either escaped captivity or was turned loose by its owner.

And while Rummel’s weekend quest didn’t yield any results, he’s planning a second trip to the area.

Rummel said he has acquired two trail cameras from Smith that he’d like to put in the woods.

However, both of those cameras are older and use film, Rummel said he’s currently trying to find a digital trail camera to use instead.

“We want to confirm this if it’s out there,” he said.

And Easterling said he’s just glad the department is taking the matter seriously.

“It’s good their looking into it,” he said.

But with the first day of deer season approaching, Easterling is concerned the animal could be shot by a hunter.

“If someone sees it, they need to leave it alone,” he said. “We don’t want it shot.”