A Lion in Winter

Dateline: Almost Anywhere in Texas. A December 2020 press release from Texas Parks and Wildlife stated that a mountain lion was seen and confirmed near Rowlett, in eastern Dallas County, not far from Lake Ray Hubbard. 

Do I believe it? Or am I just trying to be an alarmist?

Heck, yeah, I believe it. I could have entitled this column, “Mountain Lion in Dallas,” omitting the word “County”, had I wanted to be an alarmist.  

But knowing the hysteria anytime there is a coyote sighting in our neighborhood and people start posting warnings about not letting kids walk to school without an adult, I refrained. Although mountain lions can be almost anywhere in Texas, your child may never see one. The reason I inserted my belief in the accuracy of the report is because so many, especially new Texans, don’t believe anything they’ve never seen. Mountain lions are mostly nocturnal and attacks on humans in Texas are rare.

Before some readers reach for the phone, I am aware of the 2012 attack on a six-year-old walking with his parents in the Big Bend. The family lived near me. They were returning to their campsite from the national park’s restaurant. Both parents were holding the boy’s hands when the lion launched. The boy’s father jumped on the lion, stabbing it with his pocketknife. The lion released the little guy and ran. It was later euthanized by park personnel. 

It had been a young lion and was possibly injured, which could have handicapped its ability to capture wild food. Mountain lions prefer deer but will take domestic animals and pets if game is scarce. Fortunately, they favor feral hogs, too. Photos of the injured child showed scratches on his face and neck. Thankfully, he survived.

Lions exists in many parts of Texas, but not in one place for very long. A mountain lion seminar I attended several years ago showed the range of cats equipped with electronic tracking devices to be an oval shaped range of 150-200 miles! They are continually on the move. Authorities don’t expect the Rowlett cat to be seen there, again.

A TPWD mountain lion distribution map shows few sightings in east Texas. However, when I was in high school in Beaumont, the editor of the morning paper left work and headed home after getting the paper to press around 3:00 a.m.. He lived in an area near a wooded wilderness south of the Big Thicket. He swore that as he walked to his front door, there was a “lion” in his yard. Known for his credibility, I never doubted his account. It was never seen again. 

I have heard first-hand reports from ranches in Duval, Zapata, Kerr, Burnet, Lampasas, and Williamson counties of seeing mountain lions or their tracks. They’re scattered all over Texas, but seldom seen. I’ve only seen the one in the attached photo. My wife saw one eating roadkill along I-10 between Ozona and Junction one night coming back from the Big Bend — but I missed it. 

I was unaware of my closest encounter with a cougar when it happened. Organizers of a canoe trip to draw attention to pending Wild and Scenic Rivers legislation asked me to assist with unskilled participants since I had considerable canoeing experience and had previously canoed through Santa Elena Canyon on the Rio Grande. The planned trip was to be an 80-miie float through the Rio’s Lower Canyons. It was to be a four-day, three- night trip.  

The last night, the 52 of us had a celebratory campfire, at which a geologist described the terrain we had canoed through. If we had any libations left over, they were consumed.

Knowing how quickly the Rio Grande can rise if there were rains upstream in Mexico, New Mexico, or West Texas, I went down to check on our 26 canoes. There was a cane brake a few feet upstream from my boat. I pulled it up a couple of feet and went to bed.

The next morning, as we began loading, someone near my canoe yelled, “There’s a mountain lion track here!” Sure enough, the track was by my boat … and on top of my tennis shoe track from the night before.

They’re here. For sure.