Making history, Tennessee confirms its first mountain lion in over 100 years!
In October 2015, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) received photos from the trail camera of an Obion County hunter claiming to have proof of a mountain lion. Because most lion images circulated online are either mistaken identity or from another location, TWRA took some time to investigate the photos and ensure this wasn't just another hoax.
In a press release, the agency reminded residents, the "confirmation of one animal [...] does not mean there is an established population. A cougar sighting could easily be attributed to a transient young male or an illegal release of a captive animal."
The odds are this cat is a young male kicked out of his mother's home rage in a western state. He is searching for an available territory with food (preferably deer), water, cover and female lions. Until he finds a landscape with all four necessities, this cat will likely continue to wander. He may very well already have crossed into another state by now.
Since the photos were reported in October, at least two other sightings have occurred. A definite confirmation was a trail camera video taken just outside Nashville during Thanksgiving weekend. There's a chance it's the same lion since covering 200 miles in two months is an easy trek for a dispersing mountain lion.
With all the attention mountain lions have been receiving in the state, TWRA has created a "Cougars in Tennessee" webpage dedicated solely to the stealthy cat. The page provides some background information on lion biology and the species' history in Tennessee. Residents can also learn more about confirmations and how to submit proof for review by the agency.
TWRA reminds the public, "Because Tennessee law protects all animals for which no hunting season is proclaimed, the cougar is protected in Tennessee. It is illegal to kill a cougar in Tennessee except in the case of imminent threat of life and injury. Also, if a landowner is experiencing property damage made by wildlife, that landowner has the right to protect his/her property. TWRA has never, nor has it any plans to stock or otherwise physically encourage the establishment of a cougar population in Tennessee. TWRA plans to monitor the natural expansion of the cougar from the western US as it pertains to Tennessee."
Though against the law, dispersing lions in the Midwest and eastern states often find themselves in the crosshairs of hunters willing to risk a small fine for the thrill of shooting such a rare animal. Poaching laws in Tennessee provide some protection of mountain lions, but only as a deterrent. It is rare for penalties to be sufficiently harsh to keep poachers from poaching again. State law specifies that killing any animal contrary to the legal means, devices, or times laid out in the state's legal code is a Class B misdemeanor. A Class B misdemeanor is punishable by up to 6 months of imprisonment and a fine of up to $500. This is significantly cheaper than the cost of flying west for a guided lion hunt.
But the Mountain Lion Foundation and its thousands of supporters hope this roaming lion stays out of harm's way. Fingers are crossed that he finds a place with female lions and sets up a territory. We can increase his chances by continuing to protect wild places, contacting legislators to pass laws that prohibit lion hunting, and increasing the penalties for those who violate game laws by poaching our precious wild life.
Together, we can work towards a future where lions once again roam Tennessee and the entire Appalachian Mountains. Please join us today!