The second in my series of big game cat articles. This is actually one of my favorite animals.
Mountain Lion (Puma, Cougar)
The mountain lion is an unspotted cat. Males may be as much as 8 feet, 6 inches; females, 6 feet, 7 1/2 inches. Weight of three males averaged 184 (160-227) pounds; six females, 118 (105-133) pounds.
The mountain lion ranges over much of the Trans-Pecos of West Texas, the southern two-thirds of the Hill Country in Central Texas, and a large portion of the South Texas brushlands as well as in limited areas in North Central Texas. Within this range, the cat is most common in remote, thinly populated ranchlands but may be encountered almost anywhere. Changing land use patterns have resulted in reduced predator control efforts in many lion-populated areas. As a consequence, lion populations currently appear to be holding their own or increasing in the southern, central and western portions of the state.
Retiring and shy by nature, and largely nocturnal by habit, the mountain lion is seldom seen in its native haunts.
The diet of the mountain lion consists almost entirely of animal matter; but, like the domestic cat, it occasionally eats grasses and other vegetable matter. Deer and javelina are major food items; however, lions have been known to take elk and bighorn sheep as well as a variety of smaller animals.
Contrary to popular opinion, mountain lions rarely use caves as dens, preferring cliff crevices, overhanging ledges or enlarged badger burrows instead.
Except for a short breeding period of up to two week’s duration, they lead a solitary existence.
As strange as it may sound, Houston is not immune to the occasional mountain lion visitation!
With gloomy skies and temperatures in the 30s, Sunday, Feb 1, 2010 wasn’t a fit day out for man nor beast. But the weather didn’t deter Houston lawyer Tina Nicholson from an afternoon run in Harris County’s Terry Hershey Park. And it certainly didn’t stop what Nicholson described as “a big cat” — possibly a mountain lion — from staking out a menacing spot on a bluff 20 feet above the bike trail.
Nicholson said the encounter alarmed her because the park’s narrow margin of woodland along Buffalo Bayou provides little room for the carnivores to live and hide. “People bring their kids here all the time,” she said of the park, which extends from Beltway 8 to Texas 6. “Houses back up to the park. …Dangerous interaction with people is inevitable.”
John Laine, assistant chief constable for the precinct, said his officers searched the park for signs of the animal Sunday and again Monday, but found nothing. He said his officers have received no other reports of the animal.
250# is not impossible but that would be a huge male. Urban lions are not unusual but it’s usually young males or really old males. A dominant male lion will claim around 50 square miles as his “home” range and try to kill any other male that comes into his area. That’s how non-dominant males get pushed into the less desirable urban areas…the “good” areas are already claimed.
Texas Parks and Wildlife officials say mountain lion attacks are rare, but have increased in recent decades. A fatal Texas mountain lion encounter happened, on average, once every 6 1/2 years from 1890 to 2001.
Game Warden Capt. Albert Lynch said the presence of a mountain lion in Houston’s suburbs is possible, especially if it was an escaped or abandoned pet. Late last year, his office received reports of large cats in counties surrounding Houston, but no animals were found.
“I’m not disputing that this may have taken place,” Laine said. “When you have fast development infringing on the territory of wild animals, moving them into smaller confined areas, you’re going to see them. Raccoons. Bobcats. Possibly coyotes.”
Nicholson said she was only about 100 feet from the animal when she spotted it. She couldn’t immediately identify it, but “it didn’t look right.” The woman slowly backed down the trail until she met her husband, who had been following at a walk. Together they watched the animal for several minutes.
When a man and his dog caught up to the couple, the feline — about the size of a German shepherd — stood up and walked toward a nearby residential area.
Nicholson said the beast had big ears and an extremely long tail. “I just kept thinking, ‘That’s a big cat! That’s a big cat!’”
Nicholson said she later identified the animal as a mountain lion through Internet research.