By CASSIE MCKEE, Four Points News
During the past year, there have been two reports of possible mountain lion sightings made to the Steiner Ranch Homeowners Association. The sightings were in the greenbelt area of Shire Ridge and at a trailhead off of Flat Top Ranch Road, according to an HOA spokesperson.
Jim Nissen, who lives on Flat Top Ranch in Steiner, said his 15-year-old daughter, Katherine, was walking home at about midnight on July 30 when she was startled by a noise as she walked past the trailhead near Waters Drive and Summer Canyon Drive.
“While she was walking past the trailhead near that intersection, she heard a noise and looked back to see a large cat exiting (a) cottonwood tree in the area,” Nissen said. “She immediately started to run and was terrified. She said as she looked back, the large cat climbed back into the tree. She was absolutely positive this was not a raccoon or coyote. It was a large cat and she identified it as a mountain lion or cougar.”
The HOA office contacted the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department about the sightings. TPWD said the possibility of a mountain lion sighting in Steiner Ranch is unlikely, although not out of the question, according to the HOA spokesperson.
“The Austin population has surpassed 931,830 and continues to grow each day,” the spokesperson said. “Urban expansion results in fewer natural shelters for animal species. This loss of habitat is the primary reason wildlife is moving into the urban landscape.”
Nissen said they wanted to report the incident in case others had seen similar sightings.
“We debated not reporting this but decided to say something in case others in the neighborhood have reports of big cats as well,” Nissen said. “It’s been almost a month since the sighting but my daughter has no intention to walk past that area again late at night!”
Mountain lions facts
Mountain Lions, also called cougars, pumas, panthers, painters, and catamounts, are large, slender cats with a smallish head and noticeably long tail, according to TPWD. Their fur is a light, tawny brown color which can appear gray or almost black, depending on light conditions. They weigh between 90 and 150 pounds.
While TPWD has records of mountain lions occurring in every county of Texas except for the northernmost counties of the Panhandle, they are mostly found in the Trans Pecos region in primarily large, undeveloped tracts of land. Sighting and kill reports, however, indicate that mountain lions now occur in more counties than they did 10 years ago and appear to be expanding their range into central Texas.
“Because lions are secretive by nature, it is rare to see a mountain lion; however, as we encroach upon their habitat conflict is bound to occur,” according to a TPWD brochure. “It is wise to know what to do if you ever find yourself confronting a mountain lion.”
History of sightings
This is not the first time that there have been reports of possible mountain lions or big cats in Four Points. In 2014, the Steiner HOA received reports of two cases where domestic dogs were killed by wildlife.
At that time, Adam Kristoff, of Steiner Ranch, told Four Points News that he saw mountain lions in River Place the year he opened Cool Creek Family Dental in 2011, and at least once a year since.
“In fact, my office overlooks Panther Hollow which is the canyon in the preserve between River Place and Steiner Ranch,” Kristoff said. “The cats have always been there but I think it is interesting we are seeing activity from them in the mists of all of the latest development in the area.”
That is when Water Treatment Plant 4 was being built, new neighborhoods, apartments, and the power line project in the preserve caused the animals to look for new opportunities due to habitat loss, Kristoff said.
Another resident, Rod Reid, has seen what he calls very big cats a few different times while running in Panther Hollow. In a report two years ago, he said, “There are big cats in the area for sure.”
Bobcats are also commonly seen throughout Texas. They are much smaller than mountain lions, about twice the size of the average house cat. They typically weigh between 12 to 20 pounds, occasionally up to 36 pounds in old, fat males. Bobcats are highly adaptable felines and throughout most of their range in Texas have shown a marked ability to cope with the inroads of human settlement.
The bobcat’s food consists mainly of small mammals and birds.
As always, should you feel threatened by wildlife or are in an emergent situation, call 911. If you see evidence of unusual wildlife, contact Texas Parks & Wildlife at (830) 896-2500.
Deter wildlife around home
To deter wildlife interaction around your home, the City of Austin recommends the following:
• Keep wildlife wild – don’t feed them,
• Do not feed pets outside or leave pet food outside,
• Check your property for and eliminate potential sources of food and water,
• Clean up bird seed on the ground,
• Keep barbecue grills clean,
• Tightly cover and secure garbage cans and compost bins,
• Clean up under fruit and nut trees,
• Eliminate artificial water sources,
• Trim brush and shrubbery near ground level,
• Make sure fences are secure and close off crawl spaces under porches, decks and sheds,
• Keep small pets inside if possible and monitor them when outside,
• Always follow leash laws and walk dogs on leashes six foot or less in length,
• Install motion activated sprinklers or outdoor lighting around your property,
• Be aware of possible coyote den sites when in natural areas,
• Coyotes are protective of pups and may view people or dogs (even larger dogs) as interlopers. Coyotes den, mate and birth pups generally from January to June and are most territorial then.