Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Arkansas: Cougar seen in wild is probably former "pet"

Killing animal for personal protection is legal, commission says

By Warren Watkins
The Daily Citizen
Friday, December 22, 2006 6:09 PM CST

Another panther has been spotted near the community of Plainview in north White County.

Reports last week were that one or two panthers, also called a mountain lion or cougar, had been seen several times four miles north of Searcy on Foster Chapel Road. Plainview is four miles north of Searcy, but about five miles away from the first sightings and on the opposite side of the Little Red River, so the latest reports may represent a different animal.

April Skinner almost hit a panther with her car Monday, Dec. 18. on Harden Mill Road.

“I seen a panther right down the road from me,” Skinner said. “It was black and had yellow eyes.”

Officials say a brown panther often appears black at night, and there are no black panthers. Pumas, not found in North America, are black and are the size of tigers.

“I was coming back from the grocery store last night and was driving kinda slow,” Skinner said Tuesday. “I thought I seen something in the road, and it was big. I didn’t really know what it was because it was dark, but when I got up close it had jumped into a bush and sunk its head down low. It had a great big head. I seen great big yellow eyes glowing at me. It had a great big old long tail.”

Skinner said Larry and Debby Harrison, also on Harden Mill Road, had seen the panther several times. Sonya Spears, Skinner’s mother-in-law who lives on Red River Shores Road, has also seen the panther.

“A year ago I saw a big black animal jump the fence. It ran so fast it scared me. I thought it was a deer at first,” Spears, said. “I called the game and fish commission because we have a lot of small children in the area.”

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission began its latest monthly meeting with a discussion of the sightings, issuing a statement to the public from board chairman Sheffield Nelson.

Citizens can defend themselves if they feel they are in eminent danger from an animal, according to the statement, and shouldn’t be afraid to go out into the wilds of Arkansas for fear of being attacked by a mountain lion.

“People should know that if they feel that they are in danger, they can kill an animal to protect themselves,” Nelson said. “I don’t want people to be afraid to deer hunt because someone has released an animal into the wild.”

Mountain lions were historically present throughout Arkansas until their apparent eradication, which occurred by about 1920. Since that time efforts have been made to determine the existence of the animal in Arkansas.

There is no evidence that there is a wild, reproducing population of mountain lions in Arkansas, but it is probable there are a few free-ranging mountain lions that are most likely either escaped or released pets, rather than remnants of the state’s original mountain lion population.

In order to reduce the chance of escapes happening in the future, the commission passed regulations last year requiring owners of pet mountain lions to obtain permits and meet minimum caging standards in order to keep their animals.

http://www.thedailycitizen.com/articles/2006/12/23/ news/local_news/news02.txt

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