Thirty-seven Days in the Metroplex
By now many of you have heard the story of the recent Mountain Lion sightings in and around the DFW Metroplex. These encounters represent the first officially confirmed Mountain Lions sighting in Dallas, Collin, and Hunt County in the modern era. It’s been decades—maybe even a century or more—since Mountain Lions have been reliably documented in these counties.
Most people in Dallas/Fort Worth first became aware of the lion in late November after the big cat was recorded by a trail camera as it passed through Rowlett, Texas—a suburb of Dallas. Video footage of the rare and unusual sighting quickly became big news and garnered attention all across the country.
A few weeks later the big cat was spotted again. This time in Princeton, Texas, twenty miles to the north of the Rowlett sighting. Once again the Mountain Lion was imaged by a trail camera. The recorded photographs allowed the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to confirm this observations as well.
Tragically, just six days later a Mountain Lion was shot and killed near the small town of Celeste, Texas, just a little further to the northeast of Princeton. In all likelihood, all three of these cases involved the same animal. Until proven otherwise, that will be our assumption. Unfortunately, the North Texas Mountain Lion is now dead.
In this article I’m going to tell the intrepid cat’s story in a little more detail, tracing his route through the Metroplex and surrounding area in as much detail as I can. Some of the sightings I will report have been confirmed, and some of them have not. Each case will be clearly indicated.
I’m also going to offer some commentary on how the cat might have found his way into North Texas and why he only survived such a short time. I’m going to discuss the politics surrounding Mountain Lions living in this part of the state. Finally, I’m going to address the way we responded to the news of the big cat’s death.
A Mountain Lion in North Texas?
A Mountain Lion in North Texas is an extremely rare event. In spite of what you are likely to hear casually, there is absolutely no evidence that there is a resident population of Mountain Lions living in or around Dallas/ Fort Worth. This is very important to understand. Clarity is critical with this, because it is the only way a reasoned position about Mountain Lions in North Texas can be developed.
In the anomalous case when a Mountain Lion does find its way into the Metroplex, it must be considered transient. What this means is that the big cat is only passing through… It will only be in the immediate DFW area for a short time.
Mountain Lions in Texas are resident only in far West Texas and parts of South Texas—The Trans-Pecos and along the Rio Grande in some places. Occasionally, when a young male Mountain Lion comes into conflict with an older male, the juvenile will range into other parts of the state in search of territory of its own.
To date, this exercise appears to be fruitless. The journey through Texas is fraught with perils for a transient Mountain Lion seeking to establish a territory in a new part of the state. Most, if not all, young cats that have made the attempt end up as either roadkill or harvested by a hunter.
THE North Texas Mountain Lion
It’s not clear just how our North Texas Mountain Lion found his way into the Metroplex. The earliest possible (but still unconfirmed) sighting puts the big cat in Celeste, Texas in on November 7, 2020. Another unconfirmed sighting was reported near Weston, Texas on November 12, 2020. The next time the lion was seen was in Rowlett, Texas on the night of November 22, 2020. This was the first confirmed sighting, and the one most of you are probably familiar with.
ARTICLE: Rowlett Mountain Lion Confirmed!
A few days later, the Mountain Lion was photographed in Princeton, Texas (December 7, 2020). This time the cat was recorded by a trail camera on private property. Reportedly, there was some evidence of a recent White-tailed Deer kill in close proximity.
Finally, as you all know, the Mountain Lion was killed on December 13, 2020 by a deer hunter near Celeste, Texas. The big cat had wandered in front of the hunter’s position and was shot. The shooter reported the Mountain Lion to the Hunt County Game Warden who verified that the hunter was properly licensed, and that it was legal for him to have killed the cat.
The Mountain Lion was determined to be a adult male around 160 pounds and over six feet in length. Estimated to be approximately six years of age by TPWD, the big cat had likely been wandering the state for some time before he found his way into the Metroplex. And for the short while he was here in North Texas he continued to stay on the move and he covered a lot of ground.
It’s now been over four weeks since the last confirmed sighting—a fact that reinforces the idea that there was only just the one big cat. Unfortunately, the tragic outcome of his death was probably inevitable. The story of the 2020 North Texas Mountain Lion illustrates well the reasons why we don’t ordinarily have lions in this part of the state. There are simply too many encumbrances to their ability to survive. Most all Mountain Lions that roam out of far west Texas end up like this one did.
Can Mountain Lions and People Coexist in North Texas?
We were all rooting for this lion to find some way to survive here in DFW, but the odds were decidedly against him. While he was roaming through the densely populated Dallas suburb of Rowlett, the concern was that he would be hit by a car. When the Mountain Lion later turned up in a more rural area in Collin County, we all breathed sigh of relief… that is until we realized it was deer hunting season and the big cat was sure to be spotted by a hunter.
My hope is that the tragic story of the 2020 Mountain Lion—while terribly disappointing—will ultimately be educational and enlightening. For instance, one thing that has become abundantly clear is that when there really is a Mountain Lion in the Metroplex it will be seen, and it will be photographed. The presence of a Mountain Lion in North Texas can be positively confirmed with real evidence. We do not have to rely of hearsay and rumor.
The flip side of this is that actually having a Mountain Lion temporarily in the Metroplex also reinforces the idea that they are NOT here ordinarily. There are simply too many people, with too many cameras, for there not to be an abundance of evidence if we really did have a population of resident big cats living in this part of the state. When a Mountain Lion is here, it WILL be seen and REAL evidence will be discovered.
Now that we have momentarily had the first confirmed Mountain Lion in the DFW metroplex in decades, maybe it would be prudent to take some time to consider what it might be like if they really were here all of the time. Is that something we would want? What types of problems might that cause? Can Mountain Lions and people successfully coexist in a place like Dallas/Fort Worth?
These are difficult questions, and the answers are not clear. Maybe it’s not a good idea to facilitate Mountain Lions returning to North Texas. If so, very little needs to change. But if we were to decide in the affirmative, then the first thing to update is the legal status of these cats in the State of Texas. The law as it is currently written allows for the killing of Mountain Lions on private property, by any lawful method, at any time. A hunting license is required, but Mountain Lions are considered a non-game species, so there are no additional restrictions in place. There is no closed season, no bag limits and no possession limits. The age of the animal is not considered. It is just as legal to kill kittens as it is to kill adults.
What this means in practice is that one guy with a gun can decide for all of of us whether there will be Mountain Lions in North Texas or not. There seems to be something a little out of balance about this equation. Maybe some of you would like to have a say in the matter as well. It might be time to reconsider the status of these big cats—at least in certain parts of Texas.
One possibility could be to simply put some restrictions on the killing of Mountain Lions in counties that do not have a documented resident breeding population. Requiring a permit to be applied for before a Mountain Lion could be killed in one of these counties would allow time for more people to be involved in decisions about how to deal with situations involving Mountain Lions in new areas of the state.
If there is to be a change in the way Mountain Lions are considered by the State, citizen advocates will likely have to do the majority of the legwork. I do believe our politicians will be receptive to considering the issue, but I don’t expect that they will take the initiative on their own.
Creating a workable plan of action would be a good place to start. Advocates will need to develop a complete understanding of the relevant issues, and produce a realistic plan for managing what we would like to see changed. There has to be a real effort to control misinformation.
TPWD could help by conducting a comprehensive statewide study of Mountain Lions in Texas, complete with a reliable county by county population estimates. Only TPWD can do this effectively, and they should engage. Information collected about these big cats needs to be consolidated and made readily available on the TPWD website for anyone who is interested. Statistics should be updated regularly.
I’m not sure why TPWD hasn’t already done something like this. Surely there is someone within the organization who has the requisite level of curiosity and interest to pursue a project of this type. Ultimately, TPWD may need a little encouragement from the public to overcome its own inertia.
There was a lot of outrage expressed by people all across the Metroplex when news of the Mountain Lion’s death got out. The need to vent frustration and disappointment was certainly understandable, but in many cases I was disturbed by the way some Mountain Lion advocates responded to the situation on social media. There was entirely too much moralizing and hateful vitriol. Add to that long rambling diatribes, rumor mongering, false assertions, instances of doxing, and an abundance of uninformed—but authoritative—opining.
I don’t believe there is much positive to be gained by such behavior. If you are not an expert on Mountain Lions and their habits, now is the time to listen, not to talk. We all need to make a real effort to learn more about these big cats. Studying places around the country where big cats already live in close proximity to people surely would be of great benefit. Read a book. Read an article. Watch a documentary. Learn, don’t just “know.” Be skeptical and try to recognize the difference between hearsay, rumor, and reliable information. Be on guard against agenda-based exaggerations—from all sides of the issue.
There is something special about Mountain Lions, that much is certain. People are fascinated by them. Most people would like to have an opportunity to see one. But claiming to have seen a Mountain Lion in and around DFW without supporting evidence is generally a valueless thing to do. All it really accomplishes is to muddy the water and further confuse people. The same is true for all other false or uninformed claims made about these big cats.
What is needed is a well reasoned response that includes taking stock of the situation by considering the issue realistically and from all sides. We need to decide on and document a reasonable proposal based on the best information available. Support for the approach needs to be garnered and organized. The plan then could be taken to lawmakers who could help push to make a change. The answer to this issue is within reach as long as advocates don’t discredit themselves right out of the gate.
The story of the first Mountain Lion found in these parts in many decades has come to an all too soon end. No one can say for sure how long it will be before another big cat will make the long, arduous journey into North Texas. We can only hope that by then there will have been time to make the changes necessary to facilitate a better outcome. If the right solutions are put forward and the appropriate actions taken, maybe the travels of next Mountain Lion will not have to come to such an abrupt and tragic conclusion.