Another cougar sighting confirmed in Tennessee

This image, dated Aug. 3, 2016, is from a remote trailcamera in Humphreys County, Tenn. TWRA official say it is the first confirmed cougar sighting in the state since several other confirmed reports in 2015. (Photo: Contributed by TWRA)

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has confirmed yet another sighting of a cougar in the state... the first confirmed sighting this year following multiple sightings in 2015.

The sighting, confirmed via a landowner's trail camera, was in Humphreys County and very close to other confirmed 2015 sightings.

Until sightings in 2015, TWRA biologists said the big cats had been "extirpated from the state due to over hunting and habitat loss."

Hundreds, if not thousands of people have reported cougar sightings in Tennessee in recent decades. Internet forums and social media outlets are the favored outlets for such reports, and many such reports make reference to a "black panther." TWRA Biologist Joy Sweaney said, however, that, "No black color phase of a cougar has ever been documented."

Sweaney says that the cougars being sighted in Tennessee are like the Western cougar subspecies that is likely recolonizing and expanding their range from the Midwest. DNA analysis of a hair sample from one of the 2015 Tennessee sightings confirmed that animal likely originated -- at least genetically -- in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

According to the TWRA web page, the chances of an attack on a human by a cougar are exceedingly slim. In the last 45 years there have been approximately 14 fatal attacks in the United States. TWRA says by comparison, every year in the U.S. an average of 26 people are killed by dogs.

However reports of potentially serious encounters are not unusual in Western states. Just four days ago a four-year-old girl was snatched up by a mountain lion, and subsequently saved by her family.

Family members reported that while camping, the girl’s mother thought she spotted a big cat out of the corner of her eye. The mother then took her six-year-old child into the woods to use the restroom. That’s when everyone heard the younger child start to scream. The girl’s mother chased the cougar and the cat released the child before running away. The young girl was taken to the hospital with some scratches and bite marks on her stomach and arm. She is undergoing a round of rabies shots.

Idaho Fish and Game officers were called in with hounds and overnight they treed a young female lion near the camp. She was shot and killed.

“When lions do attack, records indicate that small children are often the targets,” Idaho Fish and Game spokesman Gregg Losinski said, who added there has never been a fatal attack in Idaho. “This family showed how vigilance and quick thinking can help avert a tragedy.”

TWRA biologists advise that if you see a cougar, never run. Instead make yourself threatening by standing tall, waving your arms, throwing objects, and yelling. Don’t turn away, but back away slowly, and towards shelter like a car or house if possible. If you’re with a group of people, gather together. And if the animal attacks, fight back. Do not play dead.

TWRA officials add that it is illegal to shoot a cougar, unless of course, it is in self-defense.

E-mail Richard Simms with your comments or suggestions for Outdoor stories

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