Almost every state east of the Rocky Mountains gets reports of cougars being seen, and Tennessee is no exception.
For years, West Tennessee, including Dyer County, has had sightings of cougars.
On Sunday afternoon, Oct. 19, Tom and Mary of Perkins of the Millsfield Community in Dyer County were riding their bikes as they normally do in the Cloverdale area close to Elbridge. While riding they noticed some indentations in the dirt. Upon closer inspection, they discovered what they were looking at were the tracks of a very large animal.
The tracks were made in the soft dirt on the side of the road. The ground was wet and the tracks appeared to be fresh. It looked as though the animal came out of a newly harvested cornfield, walked along the edge of a farm road for approximately 100 yards and then went back into the field.
Mr. Perkins was pretty sure they were cougar tracks. So, he and his wife took several photographs to compare to known photos of cougar tracks on the Internet.
Their conclusion was they were cougar tracks.
The Perkins, who are avid recreational bicyclists, often ride their bikes in the area where the tracks were found.
"I'm going to carry a chunk of meat and throw it at the cougar and then ride away like you know what," said Mrs. Perkins, when asked about her riding plans.
Alan Peterson is the assistant regional manager of West Tennessee for the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency. He takes over 100 reports of cougar sightings each year. He estimates there are approximately 1,000 reported cougar sightings each year across Tennessee.
"Even with all the reports we get, there is no physical evidence that there are any cougars in the state of Tennessee," said Peterson. "Half of the sightings we get are reports of black panthers and the other half are of the tan variety, and never in the history of the United States has there been a wild black panther."
The closest states with stable populations are Colorado and West Texas. Occasionally, a wandering young male will make its way to West Arkansas or Missouri.
"For a cougar to make its way to Tennessee would be virtually impossible," said Peterson. "The rivers in Arkansas and Missouri run north and south, and it would have to cross all those rivers and ultimately cross the Mississippi River."
Peterson believes that if cougars did exist in Tennessee, there would be hard evidence such as a body, feces or hair left behind on a fence, all of which are easily attainable in known cougar habitats.
The county that Peterson gets the most reports from is Shelby County.
Peterson looked at the tracks pictured in this article and believes a large dog made them.
"If anybody does spot cougar tracks, it is best to get a plaster of Paris mold of them," said Peterson.
The Perkins are not overly concerned and do not plan to make any changes in their bike riding habits.
"Actually, I hope I'm proven wrong," said Mr. Perkins.