State Officials Curiously Deny Lawton’s Mountain Lion Photos
It has been months since the pictures of a rumored mountain lion spotted in the middle of Lawton made the rounds on social media. Since nobody agrees on the internet, it kicked off a big debate on whether this big cat was a mountain lion or a common bobcat.
Everyone had an opinion on the matter, judged entirely by two photos posted to Facebook. July 15th is the day everyone became wildlife biologists on the Lawton Grapevine.
Since there's really no point in arguing, I decided to contact a bunch of experts. I found the email list for Oklahoma's game wardens and sent the pics off explaining the fury of arguments online and asking what they thought. I also sent the same pictures to a couple of wildlife biologists at the Medicine Park Aquarium, OU, SWOSU, NSUOK, and OSU colleges.
Every wildlife biologist responded with similar short answers...
"That is a mountain lion."
Every game warden and Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation person I emailed responded back with similar short answers...
"That's a bobcat, you can tell from the black dots on the ears."
Here's a picture of a mountain lion with black spots on its ears for reference. To be fair, bobcats also have black spots on their ears, but so do servals, tigers, leopards, lynxes, and countless other big cats.
Now before we hop down another trail of varying opinions, this matter has been settled by a peer-reviewed biological study of photos. Even though it's hard to tell from the single "public" photo on Facebook, the others in the private Grapevine group showed more detail, especially in the face. It was, in fact, a mountain lion in the middle of Lawton.
"But the game wardens said it was a bobcat!"
There are a bit of shenanigans when it comes to ODWC and mountain lions in Oklahoma. It seems every time they're advised about reports of mountain lions, they deny it until the evidence is undeniable and overwhelming... But why?
The short answer is, I don't know. I've talked to game wardens over the years about mountain lions. My cousin and I saw one while deer hunting about a decade ago. The local warden told us "There aren't any mountain lions in Oklahoma.... but if you shoot one, keep it quiet and call me first."
It was about as contradictory a statement as she could have made on the matter.
There is a conspiracy theory among Oklahoma hunters that ODWC avoids the mountain lion subject altogether because they accidentally introduced them to our state back in the 1970s with whitetail deer. Something about state liability and denial is the only way to respond, but that doesn't track with the science of it.
Mountain lions have historically called Oklahoma home. If anything, trappers and settlers chased them away long ago and it's the modern conservation efforts that are allowing us to see them again in this part of the country. It's a theory that makes sense of the increasing confirmed sightings the Sooner State has had in the last twenty years. The Lawton mountain lion would be the ninth sighting in just the last two years.
But why does the wildlife department typically deny any talk of cougars in Oklahoma?
Countless hunters each have their own mountain lion story. It's usually seeing on in passing. Could they really be mistaking small bobcats for giant lions? I wouldn't suspect avid hunters of misidentifying something like that, not on that scale. Even so, I only caught a glancing look at one for a split second, but as it stretched all the way across the single-lane county road we were driving down, there was no mistaking what it was.
I'd wager that most Oklahoma farmers have their own tales of cougars in this state. My grandfather farmed way out near Hollis for fifty years. He always talked about the black panther he'd seen three times in the 80s and 90s.
He had this rule about being either inside the house or barn after dark because "the hindya kitty'll getcha..." We all thought he was imagining things. "He's an old man, he doesn't know anything..." buying into the ODWC notion and trusting their advice that they don't travel to this state. We thought he was crazy until we saw it for ourselves.
Mountain lions most definitely travel through Oklahoma, regardless of what the officials say. After all, they're the government... who in their right mind actually trusts the government?