Game and Fish Commission thinks the cat is a former pet
By Warren Watkins
The Daily Citizen
Monday, December 18, 2006 6:47 PM CST
Two calves have been killed and area residents have been frightened in the past two weeks by what many say is a panther along Foster Chapel Road, four miles northwest of Searcy.
The sightings and incidents have taken place in an area three miles south of Panther Creek.
Gary Lovitte said his daughter, Angela, came face to face with the animal, also called a mountain lion or cougar.
“She was outside talking on the phone just after dark and saw a brown cougar sitting in her yard,” Lovitte said. “It seen her and started after her, and she liked to have killed herself getting in the house.”
A few days after that, James Johnson, who lives and raises cattle on Bostic Road in the area, had a close encounter with the animal. One day as Johnson rode his tractor through a pasture to check on his cows, the panther attacked the vehicle, leaving superficial scratch marks.
Johnson thinks the animal was not trying to kill him but attempting to make him leave. His dogs had already left the area before the animal, which had a long tail and was not solid brown, appeared.
“It was a good thing his tractor didn’t die,” Lovitte said.
Johnson found one of his calves killed under some trees just before the incident. When Lovitte went out to see the calf’s body, it had been moved in broad daylight.
Lovitte said another resident had an experience similar to that of his daughter.
“It was just before dusky dark and she had her dog on a leash,” Lovitte said. “It came down the road and meowed a couple of times, and the dog pulled her back inside. It screamed, and they sound just like a woman screaming.”
Another calf, owned by Steve King, was also killed, Lovitte said, and two gas exploration workers recently spooked two panthers from a thicket as they went about their work.
Panthers in Arkansas
“We don’t have any proof there are any mountain lions in Arkansas,” said Keith Stephens, assistant chief of communications for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. “There are probably some feral ones, which would have been a domestic animal at one time, someone’s pet. It might’ve gotten too wild. When they get them as kittens they are lovable and playful, but when they get to be 100 pounds, they overwhelm a person, and they just release them into the wild.”
The commission has never had a relocation program for panthers, Stephens said, and have never released any of them anywhere.
Relocation programs are done for bear and elk, but not panthers.
“As best as we can tell, there are a few running around out there,” Blake Sasse, non-game mammal program coordinator for the commission, said. “There is no evidence we have a population of them. Even states with actual populations of mountain lions like Florida or the upper midwest, they get several killed every year being hit by cars.”
Florida has about 100 mountain lions in the entire state, Sasse said.
“Here in Arkansas, we haven’t seen anything like that,” Sasse said. “People would be shooting them, and dead ones would be turning up if there was any real reproducing group out there.”
Sasse agrees with Stephens, that what is being seen in Arkansas are mostly released pets.
“That could happen anywhere in Arkansas,” Sasse said. “There was one owned by a drug dealer in Arkansas a few years ago, and he basically let it run free.”
Most of the time when people see panthers, they are usually misidentifying something else, Sasse said.
A panther’s normal diet is deer, and depending on where they’re at in Arkansas they may eat some kind of mid-size animals like wild hogs.
“If it’s livestock that’s been killed, it’s usually killed by coyotes,” Sasse said. “The tracks turn out to be everything but a mountain lion.”
A panther’s range varies, but in Arkansas could be between 50 and 100 square miles, Sasse said.
Reacting to a panther sighting
If a person sees a panther, there is a safe way to react.
“They need to yell and make as much noise as they can to scare it off,” Sasse said.
Lovitte had different plans.
“We’ve always had panthers come through here this time of year, but they don’t bother anybody,” Lovitte said. “They say not to shoot it, but if it’s in my yard or on my children, I’m going to shoot it.”
Residents are now forewarned, Lovitte said.
“Ain’t nobody got any business being out after dark,” he advised.