Small dogs and protective parents can breathe a sigh of relief.
Park rangers dispelled reports of a possible mountain lion sighting near the Turkey Creek Trail at Emma Long Metropolitan Park when they discovered Wednesday that the animal was actually a three-dimensional archery target from the nearby Austin Archery Club — of a cheetah.
“It appears from the witness statement that the hikers wandered off the trail into an unauthorized and hiking-prohibited area,” said Shelley Parks, public information specialist for the Austin Parks and Recreation Department.
Rangers investigated after several hikers reported spotting a large mountain lion at the park off City Park Road just after noon Sunday. Posts about the sighting lit up social media.
“It was huge. We thought it was a full-on lion at first,” said Michael Law, who was hiking with his wife and two dogs at the top of a mesa when they saw the creature. “It was the biggest thing, like a Great Dane but twice as heavy.”
Law said the animal had a long tail and light fur with darker patches. It was standing still and appeared to be looking at something else.
“We both did a double take and slowly backed up and then ran for our lives,” he said. “I think we ran 4 miles at a 7-minute pace. It was nuts.”
Law said they were hiking on a path and didn’t see any signs warning that they were near an archery range. “We were on a well-beaten path that looked like it was made for Turkey Creek,” he said. “It wasn’t like we were jumping through bushes and cobwebs.”
Austin parks officials investigating the reports found tracks, but were unsure whether a large dog or a mountain lion made them. They advised hikers in the area to stay alert, and to pick up small children and back slowly away if they spotted the animal.
On Wednesday, they found the target.
Mountain lions do live in Texas, but are rarely found in densely populated areas. They can measure up to 7 feet long. Males typically weigh 100 to 150 pounds; females weigh 55 to 100 pounds. They are generally secretive, and they are most active in the morning, evening and at night. A single male’s range can cover up to 200 square miles.
“While it may be alarming to see a mountain lion, they can be a beneficial species to our area,” said LeAnn Ishcomer, Austin park ranger program manager.
Hikers should stay on marked trails as Turkey Creek, which is near the Austin Archery Club’s active archery range.