Citizens report cougar sightings in Mt. Juliet

 

A Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency wildlife biologist confirmed Monday she's had several reports of cougar sightings from Mt. Juliet citizens recently.

A Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency wildlife biologist confirmed Monday she's had several reports of cougar sightings from Mt. Juliet citizens recently.

One such citizen, Wendy House, spotted a big cat when she glanced out her large windows that face her backyard last week.

She did a triple take and her jaw dropped. It was about 1:30 p.m. Friday. Not immune to seeing wildlife - deer, bobcat, coyote, fox - Wendy is somewhat of a

wildlife-spotting veteran and not easily affected.

However, what she saw that dreary afternoon was unlike anything she's seen on her five acres that are part dense woods just off Sandersville Ferry Road in Mt. Juliet. Her two children were home at the time.

"We were making Christmas cookies," she recalled. "It caught my eye! It was huge...way larger than a large domestic cat. It had a look, and muscles and movement."

She made the girls be quiet just in case the feline could hear them and grabbed her phone. She took the pictures from her window and didn't open her French door because she didn't want the humongous cat to scare away.

"I know it was a cougar, much to my disbelief," she said. "It could not be anything other. I saw it with my own eyes. I'm not stupid. I know wildlife...this was a cougar. It looked like a young one."

She quickly called her husband Brendan.

"He sort of freaked out," she said.

A few days before, her dog brought her a gift of a mangled deer head he discovered. Cougars' main source of food is young deer.

Lots of people have seen her photo and reported they too have spotted cougars in the Wilson County area of late. Sure, there are bogus, Photoshopped postings and misinterpretations. Wendy said such is not the case with her sighting.

To note, there are dozens of documented cases of cougar sightings in the Middle Tennessee region since 2015. There are cam photos in Obion County, a hair sample in Carroll County and sightings in Humphreys County, plus others. There are reports from Gladeville to Donelson as well.

'These cats are in Tennessee now'

Cougars, also known as mountain lions, panthers and pumas, had not been seen in Tennessee for a century until reported in 2015, said TWRA Cougar Specialist and Wildlife Biologist Joy Sweaney.

"Recent cougar sightings have been confirmed at many locations in Tennessee, and the TWRA is taking a proactive stance in making information available," she said. "The cougar has not been seen in Tennessee since the early 20th century until recently."

It's not impossible Ms. House saw a cougar, said Sweaney.

"I've recently had several citizens report sightings from that area," she said. "It would be unusual because until a year ago we had not had a confirmed sighting in 100 years."

However, Wendy has "physical evidence" of her sighting, and it's now being studied by specialists at several agencies.

Sweaney said there's been a major study conducted since 2015 when there were many reported sightings of cougars in the Middle Tennessee area. All were supported with mostly trail cameras.

"The results of the study suggest the cougar is recolonizing the Midwest with a range expansion eastward. It is well documented cougars travel hundreds of miles in search of new territory. The recent confirmed sightings in Tennessee could be a result of this range expansion and long exploratory treks by transient cougars," she noted.

Mt. Juliet's possible cougar

"It's not completely out of the realm," Sweaney said of Wendy's sighting. "A cougar can travel hundreds of miles. They are traveling east. They are looking for a home range."

Cougars are secretive, nocturnal animals, she said.

"They are loners, it's hard to capture sight of them," she said. "Most are caught on hunters' night cameras."

Wildlife experts believe the sightings could be one, or up to three, cougars making their way east in Tennessee. All are confirmed sightings.

There are three sub-species of cougars: Eastern, Western and Florida. The Eastern cougar is officially extinct. This means most likely cougars sighted in this area are Western cougars.

"Males can travel hundreds of miles," Sweaney said. "One found had genetic markers in Connecticut and was found in South Dakota."

Sweaney believes several cougars live in Middle Tennessee now, and some sightings might be the same big cat making its way east.

Other local evidence of cougars

Kevin Woods, who lives in Hohenwald, supplied recent pictures of a cougar in the woods near his house. A Summit Hospital doctor walked up on a cougar on the shores of Old Hickory Lake.

Long time Donelson resident and business owner Dendy Jarrett in 2010 saw one walk on his rock wall.

"Nobody really believed me then," he said. "I'm from a rural area. I know a mountain lion. I saw the silhouette and went out on my porch. There's no doubt in my mind. People said, 'yep, and there are sharks swimming in my pool'. I know they are here and finally people are believing. They are migrating here."

What if you see a cougar? Say what?

First, that's extremely unlikely. However, it doesn't hurt to know the basics. Sweaney said cougars are large predatory carnivores and if you see one, it might be deciding whether or not you'd be an easy meal. Never run, but instead make yourself threatening by standing tall, wave your arms, throw objects and yell. Don't turn away, but back away slowly and toward shelter like a car or house, if possible. Pepper spray may also be effective. If you're with a group of people, gather together. Dogs and children have a tendency to run, and they are more vulnerable than you, so pick them up to prevent them from becoming a target. If the animal attacks, fight back. Do not play dead.

Kill a cougar and face jail time

It is illegal to kill a cougar in Tennessee, except in the case of imminent threat to life and injury.

Cougars are shy, nocturnal, solitary, secretive animals, with large home ranges. Because of their behavioral patterns, the likelihood of encountering a cougar is extremely slim, even in areas with established populations. To show how rare a cougar attack is, compare the number of human fatalities resulting from cougar attacks to those resulting from other hazards from animals or nature. In the 100 years between 1890 to 1990, in the U.S. and Canada, only 10 humans died due to cougar attacks. Every year in the U.S. an average of 26 human deaths are the result of dog attacks, three deaths from bear attacks, 12 deaths from rattlesnake bites, 40 deaths from bee stings and 90 deaths from lightning strikes.

Writer Laurie Everett can be reached at laurieeverett1@gmail.com

© 2016 The Wilson Post

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