Cougars still run free in Louisiana - KNOE 8 News; KNOE-TV; KNOE.com |

Cougars still run free in Louisiana

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Cougar is in bottom center of  picture moving away. Cougar is in bottom center of picture moving away.

VERNON PARISH, La., (KNOE 8 News) - The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says there's at least one cougar in the wild in Vernon Parish.

A private citizen sent LDWF a trail camera picture taken earlier this month. Large Carnivore Program Manager Maria Davidson and biologist Brandon Wear conducted a site investigation that confirmed the authenticity of the photograph.

"It is quite possible for this animal to be captured on other trail cameras placed at deer bait sites," Davidson said.  "Deer are the primary prey item for cougars; therefore, they are drawn to areas where deer congregate."

It is unlikely this cougar will remain in any one area longer than it would take to consume a kill.  Cougars do not prefer to eat spoiled meat and will move on as soon as the Louisiana heat and humidity take its toll on the kill.

"It is impossible to determine if the animal in the photograph is a wild, free-ranging cougar, or an escaped captive," Davidson added.  "Although it is illegal to own a cougar in Louisiana, it is possible that there are some illegally held 'pets' in the state."

LDWF has documented several occurrences since 2002.  The first cougar sighting was in 2002 by an employee at Lake Fausse Point State Park.  That sighting was later confirmed with DNA analysis from scat found at the site.  Three trail camera photos were taken of a cougar in Winn, Vernon and Allen parishes in 2008.   Subsequently on Nov. 30, 2008, a cougar was shot and killed in a neighborhood by Bossier City Police Department.

The mountain lion, cougar, panther or puma are names that all refer to the same animal.  Their color ranges from lighter tan to brownish grey.  The only species of big cats that occur as black are the jaguar and leopard.  Jaguars are native to South America and leopards are native to Africa.  Both species can occur as spotted or black, although in both cases the spotted variety is much more common.  Although LDWF receives numerous calls about black panthers, there has never been a documented case of a black cougar anywhere in North America. 

The vast majority of these reports received by LDWF cannot be verified due to the very nature of a sighting.  Many of the calls are determined to be cases of mistaken identity, with dog tracks making up the majority of the evidence submitted by those reporting cougar sightings.  Other animals commonly mistaken for cougars are bobcats and house cats, usually seen from a distance or in varying shades of light.

The significant lack of physical evidence indicates that Louisiana does not have an established, breeding population of cougars.  In states that have verified small populations of cougars, physical evidence can readily be found in the form of tracks, cached deer kills, scat and road kills. 

The recent sightings of cougars in Louisiana are believed to be young animals dispersing from existing populations.  An expanding population in Texas can produce dispersing individual cougars that move into suitable habitat in Louisiana.  Young males are known to disperse from their birthplace and travel hundreds of miles seeking their own territories. 

Cougars that occur in Louisiana are protected under state and federal law.  Penalties for taking a cougar in Louisiana may include up to one year in jail and/or a $100,000 fine.  Anyone with any information regarding the taking of a cougar should call the Operation Game Thief hotline at 1-800-442-2511.  Callers may remain anonymous and may receive a cash reward.

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