Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Persistence of Pocahontas County Panthers

Princess yawning

The November issue of the Pocahontas Times' monthly tourism section, "Mountain Times" has an interesting article on the possibility of panthers in Pocahontas County, by Drew Tanner. Authoritative agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and West Virginia DNR have no confirmed mountain lion reports in since 1900. However, this county is big and sparsely populated, and several people I know are sure they've seen them. Sightings are infrequent, but my "informants" are quite credible. (Yes, I know, that's my kitty, not a cougar. I'm not presenting myself as a credible witness.)

I recommend Mr. Tanner's article, which, unlike the rest of the Pocahontas Times, will remain freely available in a public archive. Here's a small sample:

...Belief in the persistence of panthers has deep roots in these parts. Long-time readers of The Pocahontas Times are well aware that the venerated editor and conservationist Cal Price firmly believed the eastern cougar still roamed the "endless mountains" of Appalachia -particularly the Allegheny highlands. Price often published reports of sightings, mauled livestock and that eerie, unmistakable cry.....

With the exception of Florida, the cougar has been extirpated from east of the Mississippi River since 1900, according to wildlife officials....

In 1936, tracks in the vicinity of Kennison Mountain, Pocahontas County, were reported by workers from the U.S. National Museum. Although there are still sightings of mountain lions in the Mountain State, the DNR maintains that the source of these animals is difficult to determine. Two cougars captured in Pocahontas County in 1976 were western cougars that had been transported here and released. Subsequent sightings reported to the agency have also been escaped or released animals.

Despite their troubled history, sightings of cougars in remote areas of the East never completely ceased. By the 1960s, sightings had increased to the point that the eastern cougar was believed to be possibly still existing and was included in the first Endangered Species Act in 1973. An official U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service search for cougar signs in the late 1970s and early 1980s turned up several promising scats, but technology available at that time could not confirm them as cougar, and no other confirming evidence was found. But in the 1990s, DNA analysis as well as other methods began to confirm field evidence of cougars.


Rick Lee said...

That's all fine, but what we really want to know is, have you see any African Lions?

Reya Mellicker said...

Do you feel them out there, Rebecca? Are they part of the intricate tapestry of the landscape?

Very cool to think about how wild the natural world is, no matter all our efforts to tame it.

Rebecca Clayton said...

We've been watching for the African lion--Cold Knob is not that far away, as big cats run. No sign so far.

Reya, judging by how excited I get about bears and bobcats, I might explode if I saw or heard a mountain lion. I'm definitely convinced by my neighbors, though. They're not excitable or fanciful folks, they know what they saw, and they don't care if anyone believes them or not.