Texas mountain lion report a hoax, but shy creatures expanding range

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Sightings of rare and elusive creatures aren’t uncommon across the remote outreaches of a massive state the size of Texas.

However, it’s pretty uncommon for them to occur in a heavily used park along the Colorado River in northwest Austin, especially when the critter is being touted as the reclusive mountain lion.

The report of a puma two weekends ago by hikers at Emma Long Metropolitan Park turned out to be a hoax, and not even a fake catamount, but rather an archery target in the guise of cheetah.

Officials with the Austin Parks and Recreation told The Austin American-Statesman that the target was being used by the Austin Archery Club.

Mountain lions have the widest distribution of any wild cat, from Canada to South America, according to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. Formerly distributed throughout North America, the puma is found mostly in the remote areas of the western United States, as well as western Canada and much of Mexico. A small population exists in southern Florida, where the species is considered endangered.

In Texas, lions are found throughout the Trans-Pecos region of far West Texas, as well as the brush country of South Texas and portions of the Hill Country. Sighting and kill reports indicate mountain lions occur in more counties than they did even a decade ago and appear to be expanding their range into central Texas.

While it’s uncommon to see the reclusive creatures in Central Texas, one place that has faced an onslaught of urban encounters in California, specifically NorCal, which has seen a rise in pet deaths attributed to puma predation. A new report from that state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife highlights just how prevalent that problem has become. More than half of the mountain lions killed last year legally under provisions of special depredation permits were found to have eaten domesticated animals, including family pets such as dogs and cats.

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