Cougars Regaining Numbers, Spreading Habitat

Cougars have been declining in number for a century now, as victims of hunting and loss of habitat. Now the BBC reports they’re making a comeback. The population is increasing and they are spreading out of their usual western habitats back into eastern and northern areas where they haven’t been seen for many years.

They’ve been spotted from Texas to Canada, and one even made it to Connecticut last year, only to get killed by a car.

Naturalists say that restrictions on hunting and the return of some of their prey, like elk and mule deer, have increased their numbers and forced these solitary animals to search further afield in search of a hunting range.

Some have raised concerns about cougar attacks. Although experts say that cougars generally avoid humans, cougars must be treated with caution like any wild animal. From 2001 through 2010, there have been 36 injuries and four deaths caused by cougars in the U.S. and Canada.

By way of comparison, lightning killed 26 people in the U.S. in 2011 alone. Environment Canada reports, “each year lightning kills approximately 10 Canadians and injures approximately 100 to 150 others.” So it appears that, much like the common fear of wolves and sharks, fear of cougars is based less on their real threat than it is on urban ignorance of nature.

[Photo courtesy Art G]

Wild Texas: the critters of the Lone Star State

When it comes to viewing wildlife in the U.S., most people naturally gravitate to the western part of the country, where you’ll find a wide variety of species in abundance. Places like Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and of course Alaska, have great reputations for offering travelers an opportunity to see a large number of animals in their natural habitat. One place that doesn’t garner this kind of attention however, is Texas, despite a surprising array of creatures within the state.

Most visitors to the Lone Star State, expect to see plenty of deer, squirrel, and armadillo of course, but they are often surprised to hear that they can also spot more exotic creatures. For example, if you want to see Black Bears, you can head to the western portion of the state to Big Bend National Park or the Guadalupe Mountains, where they still wander the thickly wooded or desert scrub areas. While you’re in that part of the state, check out one of the five small herds of elk that still roam the region as well.

Moving to central Texas, you’ll have an opportunity to spot the elusive mountain lion, whose numbers have increased substantially over the past decade. The big cats are known to wander the Texas Hill Country, just west of Austin, although you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled to spot them. Mountain lions aren’t the only wild cats to wander the Texas backcountry however, as ocelots are found in the southern part of the state, and in the Rio Grande valley, which also serves as home to Jaguarundis, a species that isn’t much bigger than a common house cat. Bobcats are also fairly common, and found in nearly every corner of Texas.

Speaking of Austin, from February to October of each year, that city is home to the largest urban bat population in the country. More than 1.5 million bats live under the Congress Street bridge, and every night at dusk they take flight, in a mass migration that has become a popular attraction for locals and tourists alike. The mass exodus is a sight to behold, with a seemingly never ending stream of Mexican free-tail bats flowing out into the night air in search of dinner in the form of insects.

The Gulf Coast region of Texas has plenty to offer the wildlife lover as well, with amazing sea creatures regularly on display. The most common of these is the Bottlenose Dolphin, which often travel in pods of eight near the shores of Corpus Christi and Galveston. Atlantic spotted dolphins have been known to make appearances as well, as have a variety of types of whales and sea turtles too. There are a number of tour operators that offer day cruises out onto the Gulf of Mexico, allowing visitors to get an up close, and personal, look at the aquatic wildlife.

There are plenty of other interesting creatures throughout the state as well. The Panhandle is home to a large prairie dog colony for instance, while the eastern portion of the state offers the American Alligator and the always popular River Otter. There is a substantial Coyote population in Texas as well, and Bald Eagles can be seen throughout the state at all times of the year.

As you can see, the Lone Star State has plenty to offer anyone looking to catch a variety of wildlife in their natural habitats. From bears, to dolphins, to big cats, there is something for everyone. Just be sure to keep an eye out for the rattlesnakes, as they are in abundance too!

Photo of the Day (11/13/08)

This really is a shot of a lifetime. Max, a.k.a. fiznatty, took this picture of a mountain lion in the Wasatch Mountains in Utah.

I’ll let him explain the once in a lifetime picture:

When I traveled to Utah for a couple days in hopes of seeing a wild mountain lion, I wasn’t optimistic. My first morning in the tree stand was on par with my expectations, as only a few birds fluttered about.

We returned in the afternoon and I had been sitting in the stand for an hour-and-a-half when the sun dipped behind the mountains. I looked down and to my right, and noticed my guide in his ground blind, standing and taking pictures. I looked around to see what it was he was shooting, but there was nothing. I found out later that he was bored and was taking pictures of me.

So I sighed, settled back in my seat and looked over to my left toward the spring… and there it was, having just emerged from the woods.

I can only imagine how you felt, Max. What an amazing capture.

Are you a Flickr user who’d like to share a travel related picture or two for our consideration? Submit it to Gadling’s Flickr group right now! We just might use it for our Photo of the Day!