Wild Things
Dec. 5, 2008
By Roger Emile Stouff

What a pitiful excuse for a species we can be sometimes.

The last verified sighting of a big cat in Louisiana had been 1965. Authorities killed a cougar on the side of a road, of all things, near Keithville in Caddo Parish.

That was 43 years ago. But in 2002, a wildlife biologist sighted a cougar near Lake Fausse Point State Park in lower Iberia Parish. He collected "scat" from the scene and verified the DNA: Puma concolor, the North American cougar.

Just this September, there were two sightings, confirmed with photo evidence, in Allen Parish and Natchitoches Parish. It may have even been the same animal, following the Red River as it went, but thatís unlikely. You see, since 1965, state and federal wildlife experts have insisted there were no cougars in Louisiana, and only small viable populations in Texas and Florida. That animal shot in 1965 was, they said, the last of its kind on these hallowed grounds.

It didnít matter how many hunters, fishermen and hikers saw them. They saw bobcats, the experts said. Exaggerated by dim light and imagination. I saw one myself when I was a teenager on the opposite shore of Lake Fausse Point, with a witness.

And reports of black cougars, or panthers by vernacular, were scoffed liberally, because there has never been a black big cat in North America.

The Lake Fausse Point sighting silenced them, at least; the Allen and Natchitoches photos began to make them admit their err.

Now the evidence is irrefutable. An in-the-flesh P. concolor climbed a tree in the back yard of a residence in Bossier City just last Sunday. The neighborhood this happened in, by the way, is about five blocks in size, and dead ends at the Red River.

"Something just caught my eye and I looked up. I told my brother, ĎMan thereís a tiger or something in the tree.í He said ĎMan, I ainít fallin for that.í I said ĎNo, thereís a tiger in the tree,í he said. (ArkLaTex.com)

Bossier City Police allegedly secured the area. A news team was on the scene to video the incredible incident: There it was, a bonafide, in the flesh, real-live cougar, in a tree, looking down at the cops and media.

Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries was summoned, and it was decided that the cat would be shot with a tranquilizer dart.

This all took about five hours, news reports say. Five hours, you understand. For five hours, that animal looked down at them and they looked up at it. No attacks. No aggression.

They shot the cougar with a dart. The animal jerked, and surprised by the sudden sting, circled around on the branch a few times.

Officials on the scene said they thought Ė thought! Ė the cougar was coming down from the tree.

After getting aggressive with police officers and Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries personnel, the cougar was killed when an attempt to subdue it with tranquilizer darts was unsuccessful, according to Wildlife and Fisheries biologist Steve Hebert.

"We had hoped to be able to control it with the darts, but it didnít seem to slow it down," Hebert said. "We couldnít let it get loose in a residential area like that, so we had to put it down. Children play in that area, and a school isnít too far away. We hated to shoot him, but we didnít feel we had a choice." (Shreveport Times)

Oh, really?

Exactly five seconds after the dart found its mark, wildlife agents authorized Bossier police to open fire. Four shots rang out. Clearly sounded like pistols to me. The animal fell to the ground, dead. Six, seven seconds after the dart, it was all overÖand wildlife agents say the tranquilizer didnít seem to slow it down. In five seconds?

The resident who first spotted it said: "Iíd rather see him dead than one of my children dead. So, I hate that it happened, but oh well," he said.

The carcass is being sampled for DNA testing, to see if the cougar was wild or a "pet" that escaped or let loose.

That was the most bungled, mishandled handling of a wild animal I have ever been unfortunate enough to witness.

Certainly, I am not a wildlife officer or biologist. But you know, I do have a little common sense. If city police secured the area, except for the news team and officers, everyone was supposed to be home and behind closed doors. The tranquilizer dart takes about 15-20 seconds to take effect. However, the cat was killed five seconds after tranquilized, and was still in the tree. If you watch the web video link at the end of this columnÖwell, again, Iím no wildlife expert though Iíve lived my lifetime in the outdoors, but it seemed to me that cat wasnít coming down, at least not when he was shot.

Itís so pathetically typical of the mindset that nearly wiped out the timber wolf and the grizzly bear. The mountain lion and the red wolf. Itís so typical of Louisiana incompetence.

Police supposedly had the area secure. The cat might or might not have been coming out of the tree, and even if it did, the tranquilizer would have been kicking in quickly.

I canít blame the father for worrying about his children being killed by the cougar in the tree, but his children should have been behind closed doors by then, right? The animal should have been sedated and transported away from populated areas and released. Thatís done with bears and alligators and wolves all the time in this country, and it works almost all of the time.

What the dad can be blamed for is, "Oh well."

In just two short words he sums up the entirety of human arrogance: That we believe we are not only blessed with the God-given right to kill at will, but are anointed with the justification of "protecting our families" even when no threat is revealed. We are licensed to kill "just in case."

Are wild predators dangerous? Absolutely. Is a human injury or death possible due to wild animals? No doubt.

But does the "potential" of an attack justify shooting that cougar out of that tree in Bossier City, after five hours of non-aggression, with what I believe were pistols rather than long guns more appropriate for dispatching a large mammal quickly and at least somewhat humanely?

I hope it was an escaped pet. On the one hand, itíd be a shame because that would likely mean the cat was tame and harmless. On the other, it would give me some solace that at least a wild animal, and an extremely endangered one, wasnít killed, especially in such a reckless and bumbling manner. Itís just too easy to say "kill it before someone gets hurt."

If tomorrow someone gets hurt or killed by a Louisiana cougar, will I feel horrible? Will I want to eat my words? Yes, I canít deny it. Who wouldnít?

And later news reports seem to question the claim that the scene was secured:

At least half a dozen Bossier officers arrived on the scene after the call. "Officers in about a one to two block area kept residents indoors," said Bossier City Police Spokesman Mark Natale.

That was news to some neighbors living nearby.

"They didnít tell us anything. Theyíve been down here minding their own business. They didnít really let the community know," Gore said. (KSLA News, Shreveport)

Most grizzlies will turn and walk away from you. Virtually all black bears will. Cougars and mountain lions are so rarely seen, at least until now, because they usually move around at night, and were occasionally glimpsed by hunters and campers far out in the wilds, away from populations of people. If, therefore, we can shoot a cougar in Bossier because it "might" hurt someone, canít we shoot one in the middle of the Atchafalaya Basin? It might attack a fisherman, or a hunter, or a camper. Right?

Live and let live.

Since 1890, there have been 20 confirmed fatalities from cougar or mountain lion attack, and 88 injuries, through 2004.

There have been more than 130 fatalities from dog attacks in the United States just since 2004.

Here are some comments made by witnesses on the web. At least I know Iím not alone:

It is was a bad scene and I think they panicked when the cat started down the tree and opened fire, said one KTBS-3 reader. It was shot several times, any hunter could have brought it down with a single shot.

The worse part was the laughing and bragging afterward it made my daughter sick. We just donít train our wildlife agents properly, they arrived with a net you would use on a dog, racoon, etc. and police werenít any better trained.

Another lamented, What I am in total dismay at Ė the fact that you had to kill the animal! Was it just too far removed for you to tranquilize him and relocate him to another area? Come onóarenít the wildlife agents supposed to be "experts"?

This shows the lack of knowledge financed by the tax payers once again, said another. They should be accountable.

I hope there is an outcry, a public demand that wildlife and fisheries and Bossier police not be punished, but certainly held accountable for the terrible way that incident was handled. Since it is apparent the Louisiana population of cougars is on the rise, agents and law officers should be trained and equipped to deal with the animal humanely and quickly.

It would have been better if wildlife and fisheries had kept right on pretending cougars donít exist in this state.

(The news story and video can be found at the web address below. Be advised, it is graphic: http://arklatexhomepage.com/content/fulltext/?cid=49361)