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Cougars, and coyotes, and bears, oh my!

In yesterday’s Oak Ridger, Sam Suffern told about 3 reliable reports of cougar sightings here in Oak Ridge. The cougar thus joins the coyote as a large predator we need to worry about in our backyards. (I’m not aware of black bear sightings here, but it’s possible for them to be here, too.)

It’s romantic to think that native cougars have somehow managed to survive in Oak Ridge’s extensive green spaces, but wildlife experts say that any cougars sighted around here are almost sure to have been individual “pets” that escaped (kind of like the peacock that roamed my neighborhood and other parts of the city several years back). It’s very unlikely that there’s a wild population of cougars here.

Coyotes, on the other hand, have “gone native,” here and everywhere — like it or not, they’ve become part of our world.

Fortunately, all of these animals generally steer clear of humans, but (as Suffern’s letter says) they are dangerous and we all should be aware of their presence.

Added March 13th:

By e-mail, Warren Webb (one-time ORNL wildlife manager, now retired) tells me :

I read the letter. I wasn’t convinced, and I can’t judge the reports reliable on the information given. And yes, we have had black bear reports (probably more likely) . . .

Added June 10th:

As it happens, just this week a black bear was spotted in town, not to mention being photographed… In spite of the extent of Oak Ridge’s greenbelts and the fact that black bears are reported to live in relatively developed places (such as suburban New Jersey), I imagine that this bear was feeling confused — and anxious to get out of town and away from people.

Added June 15th:

Now it seems that “our” bear is in west Knox County, according to the News Sentinel. Those critters can move fast! The family cat and I both spotted another reminder of our ubiquitous wildlife: a large snake slithered through the carport today. It looked like one of the various nonpoisonous varieties, but impressive nonetheless. Too bad that neither snakes nor bears seems able to discourage the deer from eating our tomato plants…



  1. […] Smith notes there have been cougar sightings in Oak Ridge lately: It’s romantic to think that native cougars have somehow managed to survive in […]

  2. Ray Kircher says:

    I questioned this letter and asked my friends who do raise Mountain Lion cubs. He did say it was possible one escaped, but the howling would be prominent early in the morning. I haven’t heard about this howling in Oak Ridge. One point he made out was that a zoologist would check for paw prints. Did she look for paw prints? Coloring and markings is not a definite source for identifying. So I looked around for other reports of other animals since a Mountain Lion (Cougar) is out of its habitat in Oak Ridge.

    Movements and Dispersal of Bobcats in East Tennessee, J. Thomas Kitchings, Jay D. Story, The Journal of Wildlife Management, Vol. 48, No. 3 (Jul., 1984), pp. 957-961

    By its size, I would say it was a Bobcat.

  3. Ray Kircher says:

    Waking up to a Mountain Lion howling in the morning is bone chilling. Someone would have reported that. I do believe proper management of property is why these animals are increasing their domain, not only DOE land but home sites within Oak Ridge seem to attract many songbirds and wildlife. I would say entitlement has its boredom in the wilderness also.

    Thank you for the top class info from ORNL. It only shows we have more than we think when we have questions about what is happening.

  4. Wendy says:

    my daughter is staying in Knoxville in Bearden. She was playing outside when she came running into the house crying hysterically. She claims to have seen a huge cat with a long tail. We checked a few minutes later and it had left. This sighting was in a neighborhood, not woods. There seems to be several reports in knoxville.

  5. Deborah L. Cochran says:

    I am feeling a little giddy about now. Never expected to get this response when googling panther sightings in O.R. I have started riding my bike to work in the last month leaving the house at 0545. I have heard this bizarre scream.
    One week ago my daughter and I witnessed a ?panther/cougar sighting. It was not a bobcat. I notified the ORPD and they said, “We are not going to do anything.” I notified the anderson cty wildlife agency by leaving a msg. I currently am literally begging the bus system to not make my daughter walk thru this area in pre-dawn hours to catch the bus. Please help.

  6. Ellen Smith says:

    Yikes! Contact the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency about the animal you saw — they are better equipped than the police to deal with wild-animal issues. If you have not gotten a call back from the number you called, try their toll-free number at (800) 332-0900 — hopefully you will reach a human.

    If I were you, I would be driving my child to school for now.

  7. Rachel Carlson says:

    I saw a coyote standing in the cul-de-sac of Indian Lane in Oak Ridge this morning (11/10/2008) at 6:50 a.m. It ran into the Greenway between Indian Lane and Robertsville Road when I stepped out of the house. It was much larger and healthier looking than coyotes I’ve seen elsewhere in the wild.

  8. Lynda Rose says:

    I live in Claxton TN. Two nights ago… 2AM… I was on my front walkway, directly by my front door. I had just let my little yorkie out then back in when my floodlights up by my driveway fired up. THEN silently, fast, and across my yard cutting up the front bank was a huge cat… a cougar. I froze in fear and awe. I couldnt believe how long and fast and silent that animal was. I have caught much , not so nice, critisizim about this. I do not care… it happened.

  9. Ellen Smith says:

    Great stories! We do share our community with wild critters.

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