Recently I wrote about the increase in black bear sightings in Alabama, and mentioned a few counties in central and eastern Alabama in which bears have been seen, including Chambers, Lee, Macon, and Barbour counties. The Alabama Natural Heritage Program lists 42 counties in the state in which bears have reportedly been seen, five of which have sustainable populations, Mobile, Baldwin, Washington, Monroe, and Clarke, all in southwestern Alabama. It failed to list Cherokee County as one having a sustainable population, where a reliable source observed a bear with cubs. A bear sighted in Etowah County was believed by some to have originated in neighboring Cherokee County.
Black bears are not the only large animals whose range is expanding. Until relatively recently, mountain lions (a.k.a. cougars and pumas) were restricted almost entirely to mountainous areas of the West, including southwestern Texas and the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota. Now mountain lions are reportedly being seen in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Missouri, Michigan, Nebraska, and even one in Connecticut, states from which the species disappeared over 100 years ago. DNA tests of the Connecticut lion revealed that it originated from the South Dakota population, 1800 miles away. Another unusual occurrence was one within the city limits of Chicago. One wildlife specialist said he wouldn’t be surprised if the mountain lions established a population in the densely forested, sparsely settled Pine Barrens region of southern New Jersey.
I’ve heard of no reports of mountain lions or panthers being seen in Alabama except the sightings by the “Panther Man,” Kelly Curenton, an Opelika resident who insists that he has seen one or more panthers on his property east of Gold Hill in Chambers County. The Mississippi River doesn’t seem to be a barrier to the dispersal of mountain lions, so they may ultimately turn up in Alabama. Any large catlike critter Curenton allegedly sees is more than likely a Florida panther, a sister subspecies of the mountain lion. Readers will recall a Florida panther’s having been killed in Georgia, not far from the Alabama-Georgia boundary. All of which brings to mind that Kelly, whom members of the Order of Geezers rely on to update them on panther sightings in the area, is on the verge of being cited for being AWOL (absent without leave), so he should arrange his schedule to attend meetings on a regular basis. While on the subject, another Geezer, Gary Fuller, has been officially excused for inattendance, because he was campaigning to succeed himself as Mayor of Opelika. Now that he has been elected without opposition, excuses for continuing absences from meetings will no longer be accepted.
Another member of the cat family, the jaguarundi, reportedly occurs in Alabama. The jaguarundi is dark brown to nearly black in color, larger than a house cat but smaller than a bobcat, has a long tail, and a slightly pointed face. Reliable observers have seen jaguarundis in Mobile and Baldwin counties, and one captured in Clay County was positively identified as belonging to the species. An animal believed to be a jaguarundi was seen south of Selma, and another in Sumter County, near Cuba. A Lee County sighting has been reported south of Salem, but has not been verified.
Hunters on property owned by Husky Kirkwood in the Gold Hill area told him of an animal they saw that fits the description of a jaguarundi. A half-Cherokee friend of mine, who lives near Bankhead National Forest in Winston County, and is intimately familiar with animals inhabiting the forest, vows and declares that he has seen jaguarundis there. He tells me that people seldom see them because of their cryptic habit of crouching and remaining perfectly still when they see a human, rather than running away.
All the above makes me wonder if jaguarundis are not more abundant in Alabama than they seem to be.
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It gives me great pleasure to announce that the newly elected National Commander of the Legion of Valor of the United States of America, Bennie G. Adkins, has decided to become a member of the Opelika Order of the Geezers. Benny has been a close friend of mine for a number of years, and I consider him to be one of the kindest most generous persons I have ever known. He is also a gentleman of the highest order, and his service to our country, in the U.S. Army Special Forces, was exemplary, for which he received the highest award issued by the Army, the Distinguished Service Cross. I congratulate you, Benny, and I welcome you as a member of the Order of the Geezers.
Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.