By KIM ESTES, Four Points News
Recent predatory attacks on family pets and reports of wild animals seen in the area have created a greater sense of vulnerability in Four Points and Steiner Ranch especially.
While this once rural setting continues to develop as a suburban retreat, residents wonder what wildlife is being displaced, what is actually adapting, and what protective measures should be taken.
Jacob Hetzel, a Texas Wildlife Services wildlife biologist, says known wild animals in Steiner Ranch include coyotes, gray fox, raccoons, skunks and ringtail cats. “Most likely,” he adds, “there are bobcats too.”
The most recent concern of residents, mountain lions, is not on the list.
Last month, a violent attack on a Welsh corgi in her family’s Hills of West Ridge backyard had some indicators similar to the work of a large cat. However, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wildlife biologist, Blake Hendon, said last week it is unlikely TPWD will be able to identify the specific type of predator responsible for the pet’s death.
“Is there a possibility that there are mountain lions here? I think it is highly unlikely,” TWS’s Hetzel says, “but anything is possible.”
The TWS office gets 12 to 15 reports a year of mountain lions in Travis County. None have been confirmed.
To make a report, call TPWD at (512) 358-0775 or TWS at (512) 854-9613.
Hendon says, “If someone sees a mountain lion or a bobcat, please call. We want to know. A thousand pairs of eyes on the landscape is so much more effective than occasional visits from me or even the setting up of cameras.”
In the event of an active animal attack, Hendon notes, call “911”.
For residents wanting to be prepared and to live cautiously, wildlife experts offer tips on how to spot a mountain lion and what to do in an encounter.
According to Hetzel, a mountain lion, cougar, panther or puma are all names for the same animal. A bobcat is different.
“The biggest difference in the two cats is size,” he says. “A bobcat is significantly smaller. It weighs about 20 to 25 pounds. A mountain lion weighs between 90 and 150 pounds.
“A bobcat also has a short tail, about six to 10 inches in length, and is spotted. Sometimes the spots are hard to see,” Hetzel said.
Mountain lions are described as having long tails and being one color. In fact, according to a Field Guide to Mountain Lions by Billy Pat McKinney, the mountain lion’s scientific name is puma concolor, meaning cat of one color.
The Field Guide to Mountain Lions posted on both Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas Wildlife Services websites suggests the following information to avoid attracting mountain lions.
- Install outdoor lighting in areas where you walk after dark so you can see a lion if present.
- Landscape or remove any vegetation a lion could hide in around children’s play areas. Make it difficult for a lion to approach unseen.
- Do not feed wildlife and do not plant palatable shrubs, since this will also attract deer. Remember, predators follow prey.
- Keep pets under control. Roaming pets are easy prey and can attract lions. If you leave pets outside, confine them to kennels with tops. Store all garbage securely.
- Children should be closely supervised while playing outside if lions have been seen in the area.
According to the Guide, in the event of a confrontation, “There are no proven actions to minimize an attack by a lion, but reports based on personal observation by those who have encountered lions provide useful suggestions.” They are:
- If in a park or other area where lions are known to be present, hike with others, not alone. If small children are present, keep them close and within sight at all times. Carry a sturdy walking stick to ward off a lion.
- Do not approach a lion, especially one that is feeding or has cubs. Leave the lion an avenue of escape.
- Stay calm. Talk calmly and move slowly.
- Stop; back away slowly only if it is possible to do so safely. Do not run away or turn your back. Pick up children to prevent them from running and possibly triggering an attack.
- Do all you can to appear larger by raising your arms.
- If the lion is aggressive, throw rocks, sticks or whatever you can get your hands on easily. Wave your arms, brandish a stick, speak firmly and loudly. Do not bend over or turn your back.
- Fight back if a lion attacks. Lions can be fought off with whatever you can find to drive them back. Remain standing. If the lion knocks you down, try to get back on your feet.