Researcher sees signs of cougars
Wildlife officials skeptical of theories about big catsí return

July 5, 2003

Contrary to the findings of state wildlife officials, cougars more likely than not are roaming Arkansas, researchers believe. Using data from state and federal agencies, [Mark] Dowling has compiled a list of confirmed kills of deer and other large mammals by cougars and sightings of cougars in the states east of the Rocky Mountains. There have been at least 24 reports of cougar sightings or evidence of a cougarís presence in Arkansas since 1990, including one videotaped in Clark County in June 1996 near Amity. Only North Dakota and Minnesota have had more reported sightings. His list is posted on the Internet at http://www.easterncougarnet.org and shows cougars in 22 of the 37 eastern states, including all of Arkansasí neighbors except Mississippi.

"When you look at the overall picture, particularly whatís happening in Texas and Missouri, itís hard not to conclude that there might be cougars in Arkansas," said Dowling, a banker in Danbury, Conn. "Why wouldnít cougars from those two states cross over the borders?" Dowling asked. "It only makes sense." Dowling believes cougar populations have expanded in the West, forcing younger animals to seek new territory, following rivers and streams to the East. He cites Maurice Hornocker, a cougar expert, who was quoted in The New York Times as saying, "There may now be more mountain lions in the West than there were before European settlement."

Dowling based his Arkansas information primarily on a study released last September by the biology department at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, which serves as the stateís clearinghouse for cougar reports. The study was headed by David W. Clark, a former graduate student, who concluded, "With the increasing number of mountain lion sightings and accumulation of hard evidence, it appears that free-ranging mountain lions have occasionally appeared in Arkansas." In addition, the report states, "We have documented a minimum of four mountain lions in Arkansas over a span of five years based on Class I evidence," which includes photographs, scat, tracks and casts of tracks. The UALR report...declined to speculate from where the big cats came. "In all likelihood, they are the result of releases or escapes or animals dispersing from neighboring states," it stated.

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