Big cats on prowl, hunter states|jon_downes|jon@cfz.org.uk|01/13/05 at 12:13:41|jon_downes|xx|0|172.188.197.10|
http://www.nwanews.com/story.php?paper=adg&section=News&storyid=102217

Big cats on prowl, hunter states
BY KATHERINE MARKS
Posted on Saturday, December 18, 2004
URL: http://www.nwanews.com/story/adg/102217

Daniel "D. C." Morrison knows that cougars aren't supposed to exist in
Arkansas.
But claw marks and two sets of tracks side by side at his mother's
Jonesboro farm were enough to prompt him to place a newspaper ad among
postings for rifles, shotguns and pistols: "Hounds Wanted for Mountain
Lion Hunt in Arkansas. Call" .... "They're definitely mountain lion
tracks," said Morrison, who placed the ad in the Arkansas
Democrat-Gazette last week.

While he hasn't gotten official confirmation that the impressions in the
dirt leading into his elderly mother's barn are mountain lion tracks,
Morrison said he has hunted mountain lions in Utah and is familiar with
marks the big cats leave. "It just looks like a mountain lion track. I
had a little trouble believing it myself," he added. So did his
85-year-old mother, Pauline Morrison. "That's just the neighbor's cat,"
she told her granddaughter Leslie Winchester when Winchester pointed out
a suspicious-looking feline she had spotted just before Thanksgiving.
Winchester said it was about the size of her 60-pound dog.
Since then, the elder Morrison has seen something that definitely is not
the neighbor's cat. "It was just a great big animal. It's as yellow as
yellow can be."

Pauline Morrison's son-inlaw, Jerry Williams, stops short of saying the
beast is a mountain lion. But he doesn't like the idea of two big cats
roaming the farm, and he doesn't think a bobcat could have made the
tracks. His wife thought she caught a glimpse of a long tail - a
feature a bobcat lacks - going into the brush near the barn.
Morrison wants to use cameras now set up around deer stands on the
160-acre property to attempt to photograph the stealthy yellow visitors.
As a backup plan, he says he might dig up one of those tracks and
consult an expert.

In the meantime, Morrison's advertisement got the attention of Willie
Chism, a 25-year-old ex-Marine-turned-locksmith.
Chism doesn't plan to use hounds. Instead, he plans to solve the mystery
next week by hunting the big cats with the help of an Army buddy, a job
that he thinks will take two days and one high-powered rifle.
Daniel Morrison jokes that the Louisiana-bred Chism wants some mountain
lion gumbo.
Jokes aside, Chism said he simply wants to help a family in need and to
bone up on his hunting skills.
He has never hunted a mountain lion, which he expects will hunt him
back.
He has no doubts that the big cats are there and can probably be found
elsewhere in the Natural State. "Oh, they definitely exist in Arkansas."

Daniel Morrison said relatives were told by someone at the state's Game
and Fish Commission that the animals were released intentionally.
On Tuesday, Keith Stephens, a spokesman for the Game and Fish
Commission, said he was unaware of any reports of mountain lions being
released.

Animal control officers and law enforcement agencies in the Jonesboro
area also were unaware of such reports.
Stephens said if the animals are considered threats to livestock or
people they can be killed. "Every so often we get reports that people
have seen them," Stephens sad. "The tracks are hard to find, and usually
they turn out to be [from] dogs."

Between 100 and 150 mountain lions - also called cougars, pumas or
Florida panthers - live in captivity in the state, Stephens said,
citing a 4-year-old survey by the commission.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires the owners of big cats to
have livestock permits.
While there have been reports in the past of animals being released or
escaping captivity, all of the animals were either killed or recaptured.
Stephens said there are typically one or two sightings reported each
year.

Between 1997 and 2001, the commission recorded eight such escapes.
There could have been more that were reported to local authorities but
not to the commission, he added. "We're out there watching the native
animals, not the non-native," he said.
The commission says the state's wild mountain lion population died out
nearly a century ago when hunters exterminated them and nearly wiped out
the white tail deer on which the animals preyed.

In 2001, the commission took the big cats off the state's endangered
species list, a rare move, and declared that there were no wild mountain
lions in Arkansas.
But some think that the cats are resurfacing, and the opinions of
experts and locals often differ.
Last year, a camera triggered by a heat sensor captured an image of a
mountain lion in the Winona Wildlife Management Area west of Little
Rock.

Around the same time, Hot Springs residents reported seeing mountain
lions and were convinced that the cats were the culprits in two dog
maulings. An expert hired by the commission found no evidence of
mountain lions in the area.
There were at least two dozen reports of mountain lion sightings in
Arkansas between 1990 and 2003.

Copyright 2001-2004 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc. All rights
reserved.
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