Correction: This article originally stated an incorrect count for the number of mountain lion spottings in Oklahoma. The story has been corrected.
Residents of a home near Hudson Lake had a different kind of awakening Tuesday morning when a mountain lion crossed their deck.
“Apparently the wife woke up that morning and was sitting in the bedroom and looked out the window and saw this thing, so she woke up her husband and said, ‘What is that?’ and he said, ‘That’s exactly what you think it is,” said furbearer biologist Jerrod Davis with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Ron and Krista Hamilton captured definitive photos that identified the animal as a mountain lion jumping off of their deck and then across what appears to be their yard and sent the photos to Game Warden Brek Henry, he said.
Henry verified the sighting Wednesday by simply verifying the location where the photos were taken. The Mayes County deck jumper will be the 29th confirmed sighting on a list that has been kept by the department since 2002.
“That’s the nice thing about good photos and trail camera photos,” Davis said. “If it’s a good photo you just have to verify the time and place.”
With news of the sighting Tuesday he said he received several other photos of supposed mountain lions, adding that it's not unusual for people to send in photos of what looks like the big cats. “None of those were mountain lions,” he said.
Mountain lions, sometimes called catamounts, pumas, cougars or panthers, were once native to all of the Lower 48 states and much of Canada.
They are occasionally spotted in Oklahoma, but Davis said there has been no confirmation of an established population in recent years, or even a female with young. Two females, one captured north of Tulsa in 2011 and one found dead near Red Rock in 2004, were examined and showed no signs of lactation or recent pregnancy, he said.
The few mountain lions from which Oklahoma biologists have been able to pull DNA samples showed they had migrated here from Nebraska, Colorado, and the Black Hills of South Dakota, Davis said.
The sex of the mountain lion could not be determined from the photos, he said. Both male and female mountain lions are solitary for most of their lives.
“They are only together for mating, and the male leaves and the female raises the young, and then after a year and a half or so, depending on conditions, she kicks them out,” he said.
There could be a time when a mating pair is found in Oklahoma, he said. Some areas offer the solitude and dense underbrush they need, and white-tailed deer are a mainstay in their diet, so it’s possible; it’s just not known, he said.
“It’s probably just a matter of time,” he said “It could be five years from now; could be 50.”
It’s not surprising to learn of a mountain lion sighting; it’s just unusual.
“I’ve been working and in the wilderness for 12 years, and I’ve never seen one — but I would love to — but my time is a drop in the bucket compared to a lot of other people who have never seen one,” he said.
People aren’t generally in a mountain lion’s prey circle, so the odds of an Oklahoman being attacked by one would be incredibly low.
“There are areas with much higher concentrations of mountain lions and people, and it’s rare even then,” he said.
Whether the Mayes County mountain lion will stick around or was just passing through is impossible to know, and if it settles it will still be solitary and seldom seen in its chosen range.
“Their idea of space is a lot different than ours,” he said. “That cat might be 5 miles or more away from there by now.”
An old landfill site breached by floodwaters along Bird Creek at Oxley Nature Center got a closer look by federal, state and city officials. They need to come up with a plan — one that might address more than just one breach site. One thing was clear, however. It won’t be a simple matter.