North American (four-legged) cats

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The largest cat in North America goes by many names. By whatever name, it is a source of continual interest whenever the ancient ones gather to give guidance to our elected officials and to discuss certain issues of Sports Illustrated, etc., etc., etc.

Much misinformation is bandied about. One fellow claims they are as common as goldenrods around his place. Others had a second cousin who knew somebody who saw one crossing the road one dark and stormy night, and so on.

Let’s get the names straight before we go any fudder, er, further:

ν Catamount

ν Cougar

ν Mountain Lion

ν Panther

ν Puma

Got it? Memorize them.

Those are names of the same animal – the very same.

Some are easy to understand. Catamount is a shortened version of cat-of-the-mountains.

The mountain lion kind of looks like a female African lion.

Panther is probably the most used name in the South. It was my first name for it because of Grandpa.

When I was a tiny tot, this was a story I’d beg Grandpa to tell me … over and over and over. I’d correct him if he missed a word in the usual narration.

Grandpa was carrying the mail on horseback. It was getting about dark when he finished his route up in the Blow Horn community and headed home. I can picture him crossing the Yellow Creek bottom up there close to Johnny Gilmer’s place.

He heard this panther scream (“Sounds like a woman screaming,”)  and he mocked it, imitated it.

Next time it screamed, it was closer. He screamed back at it, and, next time, it was very, very close. Grandpa hit his  mare  across the neck with his hat and said, “Take me away from here, Nance!”

The puma was Bomba, the Jungle Boy’s, big cat of choice.

Bomba, the Jungle Boy, was  a juvenile  version of a Tarzan-like character who lived in South America. Bomba’s pet puma was so big he could ride it, and it could easily whip a jaguar. So, you see, it is not to be taken seriously.

But I gotta ‘omit (as cousin Artie used to say), it gave me my introduction to previously unknown animals, like the tapir and, shudder, boa constrictors and anacondas.

So, remember, different names, all the same beast.

The question is: do we have any of them in Alabama?

As I said, sightings are reported quite often, and  they are known to be in Florida. A Georgia man killed one not too long ago, incurring a steep fine for doing so.

The official word is: there are no reproducing families or colonies in Alabama. However … males are known to range many, many miles from their original locations, looking for food or a mate; so, it is not at all beyond reason that some have been sighted in our state.

We’ve had bears right here in Lee County. I’ve had ‘possums, ‘coons and groundhogs (also known as woodchucks) on my back stoop.

When we were at the Home Place last time, Frosty was washing dishes and saw a red fox in the back yard; and deer and wild turkeys that used to be totally absent in most of Alabama are now almost nuisances in some places. Deer are especially fond of many garden and ornamental plants.

An old buddy at the coffee table, the late Merrell Jones, came in one day telling about this long-legged, long-tailed, bobcat that came across his yard. “A long-tailed bobcat? Har, har, har.”

We had a lot of fun, kidding him about that. Well, the legs did get longer and so did the tail, each time he told about it. But … we were wrong. What he told about was a very accurate description of a jaguarundi. They come from Mexico and points south but have gradually started moving northward and eastward – like armadillos.

Who knows what’s next? I expect to see in my Lamar “Democrat” or West Alabama “Gazette” some day soon that an alligator has been found in Yellow Creek out at Turner’s Mill, whose millpond used to be the city swimming hole.

Look out at your back yard. No telling what you might see.

Oh, one more thing: you hear a lot about black panthers. Ain’t no such thing. Panther colors range from tawny to gray-ish, never black. If you see a large solid black cat, that’s a jaguar or a leopard. Run!

Oh, another “one more thing:” Always remember the words of that great philosopher, Ogden Nash: “When called by a panther, don’t anther.”

Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality, columnist, author and raconteur of note. *************************

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