Cougarlike beast calls parks home|Richard_F||11/19/06 at 21:10:26|richard_f|xx|0||
Cougarlike beast calls parks home, shocking visitors
TWRA officials suspect animal is harmless caracal

Staff Writer

Two sightings of a large "cat" in the 2,680-acre Warner Parks have officials seeking tracks and other evidence to determine what it is and what should be done.

The tawny-colored animal was reported as a cougar, a species that has been known to kill people.

One wildlife expert said, however, that it's more likely a caracal, a type of smaller African animal that's the same color and not inclined to harm anyone.

Either way, it's probably someone's "pet" that has escaped or been released, officials say. Tennessee residents can own a caracal, a type of lynx, or a cougar, but cougars require a special permit and safeguards.

The most recent reported sighting was Nov. 8. Tim Ogle spotted the beast Nov. 2 while bicycling through the park, near the Harpeth Hills golf course.

"I came around a corner, and off to the right-hand side of the road, sitting looking off into the brush was a large cat," he said, adding that it was quite a surprise.

"As I approached, it got up, and I could clearly see it wasn't a bobcat because it was big and had a tail."

Ogle called out as he would with a deer to shoo it out of the way and the creature "sauntered off into the woods."

When he arrived where the feline had been, he stopped to peer in the direction the cat went.

"I looked, and it was looking at me," said the environmental engineer.

"I sat there for a minute and said, 'I can see you,' or something stupid like that. Then I decided I should go on down the road."

Ogle, who estimated the cat at about 70 pounds, waited a week to tell the park staff.

"I felt like a real crackpot," he said, "but I knew what I saw."

His sighting took place in the southeastern portion of the park. The Warner Parks had received another report, with the description also similar to a cougar, from another person six days later, said Deb Beazley, park naturalist.

In the second case, the large cat had been seen in a field between the park's Nature Center and Ensworth High School. That's on the park's southwestern corner.

Beazley called the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to consult.

"There are more questions than answers right now," she said Wednesday. "We're hoping there'll be more sightings so we can get some tracks, some real evidence on the animal and go from there."

Scat, hair or photos also would work for an identification. But don't worry about any large tracks with claw marks, which probably were made by dogs. Cats retract their claws when they walk.

The cat could stick around. The park is loaded with deer, a favorite meal of cougars.

And there are plenty of birds from wild turkeys to bluebirds that appeal to caracals.

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