Like many boys who grew up during the 1970’s I was made aware of cryptozoological creatures even though the term “cryptozoology” was not in the common vernacular. Cryptozology is the study of mysterious animals. Perhaps a more accurate definition is the study of the boogie man. The cryptid that held me spellbound was the Sasquatch, or Bigfoot for those not so acquainted with the Halkomelem language. I read every book I could get my grimy hands on about Bigfoot.
Many of you may remember Leonard Nimoy’s television program, “In Search Of.” There was an episode on Bigfoot which seared the grainy footage of the Patterson/Gimlin film into my understanding of the wild. Seeing that monstrosity lumbering through the frames of film over that riverbed was unnerving. Unnerving and enchanting. Though spellbinding the thought of such a creature might be, compounded by all the reports and interviews on the matter, I knew it was all a bunch of hooey. However, in the backyard at night, Bigfoot was real, and he was watching me, and he was ever approaching as I turned tail and ran for the house into the glow of the floodlights off the back roof.
To this day I find the subject of such a creature wildly amusing. And I am proud to say that I am able to romp through the woods alone in the dark. Only because I enter the woods in deer hunting season where I am heavily armed with a rifle, pistol, and hunting knife. I have never had any encounter with anything unexplainable in all my time in the woods hunting, hiking, or camping. Even during a week-long camping trip to the Pacific Northwest, the heart of “Bigfoot country”, I never heard the first howl or saw the first footprint. So as far as I am concerned I do not have any idea what all of these people are seeing.
Enter now, Puma yagouaroundi, the Jaguarundi. For some time my aunt and uncle had been losing chickens on their small farm in rural southwest Georgia. It seemed every time I spoke with them over the phone they would mention an updated number of chickens they had found killed. Most times there was only a pile of feathers left to tell a gory fate that met one of their egg-layers.
I need to stop for a moment to explain that there are several ground rules for owning chickens that one must know and wholly accept before thinking of owning chickens. One is, if you have chickens, you will have snakes. Maybe not immediately, but eventually. Another rule is, if you have chickens, you will have the interest of many other animals. There are many unwanted creatures that you will attract with fat, flightless, defenseless, and tasty chickens. Raccoons, possums, foxes, dogs, cats, coyotes, hawks, and eagles have all been seen lurking or attacking the chickens on their farm. One night my uncle and I were torn away from the televised cattle auction by the sound of his border Collie, Goose, fighting something near the chicken pen. When we arrived with flashlights and guns, we found Goose shaking a possum violently. My uncle gave the command to Goose, “That’ll do,” and Goose dropped the possum who lay still and lifeless. I dumbly asked my uncle if it was still alive and he said, “Yes, it’s only playing possum.” Yeah, I walked into that one. Three rounds from my nine millimeter later and it was not playing possum.
Also, I must stop again to mention, when you go to kill a possum with a handgun use hollow-points. You’ll thank me later for that one. It’s on the house.
My uncle thought that the culprit to the chicken killings was a cat of some kind. A bobcat, or a house cat gone wild. It could have been coyotes or hawks or all of these things together. In hindsight, I had taken note of the chicken killings but not given much thought to it during this particular fateful trip to their farm. My attention was on squirrel eradication.
On their farm are a dozen or so pecan trees which yield enough of a pecan crop to earn them supplemental income. One squirrel can destroy up to three hundred pounds of pecans per year. Needless to say that the cute North American Gray squirrel is not welcome on the Coleman farm. There are two ways to rid your property of squirrels, one is to ask them nicely to leave, and the other is to kill them all. These squirrels on the Coleman farm have failed to master the English language. Dealing with the squirrels is what I do well. I am like the hired gun that travels in on the train hired to clean up the town from the undesirable element that threatens the peace. Then I catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection of the farmhouse windows and realize I’m just a dork in rubber muck boots and khaki shorts staring up into the trees. But Goose makes squirrel hunting fun. Goose loves it when we deal with the squirrels. He is helpful as well with his keen eyesight. Watch the Goose, and he will show you the squirrels.
It was a Saturday and it was around eleven o’clock in the morning and it was hot. Goose and I had been dealing with the squirrels off and on throughout the morning. I was getting sleepy sitting in the lawn chair so I got up to go on a stroll around the old hog barn. My shotgun was slung over my shoulder and although there were a few loads in the gun, the chamber was empty. I kept it empty just to be safe. I was standing by the corner of the old hog barn which overlooked a long since dried up hog lagoon when the jaguarundi appeared.
“That’s a big cat,” I thought to myself when the jaguarundi hopped into the open.
Now, my wife had a Maine Coon cat, “Abigail,” that was tipping the scales at 25 pounds. Some of the size of dear sweet Abigail was due to fact she was somewhat overweight. But she still was a large-framed cat. So I was somewhat familiar with how big house cats could get. But what I saw emerge before me was the frame size of a bobcat. Only this cat had a long tail that was almost the length of its body. It took several silky bounces into the pasture.
I made a deer bleat which is a soft “moo” sound which froze the cat. It looked at me for a moment then bounded away. I was frozen. It was too late to attempt a kill shot. With my shotgun loaded with birdshot there was no way I could effectively make a kill shot. The cat disappeared out of sight.
I walked back to the house where I found my uncle. I told him that I think I know what has been killing his chickens. He told me that he and a friend had seen a large dark cat crossing the pasture one day. He said it was the size if a bobcat but that it had a tail. I began to research sightings of a dark long-tailed cat in South Georgia. That’s when I came across the term “jaguarundi.” They are a species of cat that inhabit Central and South America. Their range has expanded north in to Mexico and Texas. There have been confirmed sightings in Louisiana and Alabama. Another interesting fact is that they are diurnal, which means they are active during the day. Many animals that hunt in North America are active at night. My encounter with this cat was 11:00 a.m.
I may have seen a jaguarundi or I may have seen Catzilla. But I do feel like I saw something that, while it is not the chupacabra or Bigfoot, it was something rather remarkable. A few weeks later my uncle told me that the topic of the mystery black cat from Grady county was bantered about at the local feed store. At least I wasn’t the only one seeing long-tailed haints. I had an idea of setting a trap for the cat. I thought we could put an old rooster in a wire livestock crate in the middle of the pasture. My uncle and I could set up an ambush with high-powered rifles. But fortunately for the cat, it never came to that. The killings stopped and the sightings diminished.
Perhaps the cat didn’t like the crazed look from the gringo in muck boots. Perhaps the cat missed its family in Peru. I would say this, go into the woods and get out into the wild, or find a pasture to wander through. To hear bucks fighting deep in the bush, or coyotes howling over a kill, or to see the sun rise from the blackest of nights will stir the heart. Who knows: you might find yourself staring eye-to-eye with something unexplainable?
And that ain’t all bad.