Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Ozark Howler: Monster Cat in the Ozarks?

Ozarks of Arkansas
One of my favorite stories from my years of living in different parts of the South is the tale of the Ozark Howler in Arkansas. (It is also said to live in Missouri and Oklahoma, maybe even in Texas).
Now let me be clear from the start that this mysterious animal or beast or monster or whatever it is has been the focus of an incredibly large number of hoaxes and false reports. One hoaxer even admitted to a researcher that he spread as many false stories as he could to poke fun at the Chupacabra craze that swept through Texas a decade or so ago.

Small Waterfall in the Ozarks
That said, there are real stories from sincere eyewitnesses of a strange creature roaming through the Ozark Mountains. Its nightly cries are said to sound like a the screams of a woman.

I first heard reasonable eyewitnesses talk about the Arkansas Howler in 2004 when I was living in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Several people that I talked to who had seen or heard it or found its prints did not believe it to be a real "monster," but instead thought that a mountain lion or cougar was loose in the Boston Mountains that stretch between Fort Smith and Van Buren on the south and the booming Northwest Arkansas corridor.

Wildlife authorities maintained at that time that there were no native cougars left in Arkansas. Nevertheless, residents who lived in and along the fringes of the Boston Mountains, which are part of the Ozarks, were serious in their claims that a large animal was roaming their neighborhoods.

Cougar as seen in a USDA Photo
The most convincing evidence I saw during my time in Arkansas were photos from a trail cam belonging to a couple that lived north of Van Buren in Crawford County. The photos without doubt showed a large, tawny cat that looked just like a cougar to me. State wildlife officials did not dispute that it could be a big cat, they simply point out that there is no evidence of a breeding population of such animals in Arkansas.

Be that as it may, they do agree that there could be cougars or other large cats roaming the wild areas of the Ozarks, just believe that if they are there, they were someone's pets that either escaped or were released by their owners when they got too big and dangerous.

The Ozarks from White Rock Mountain
Now to be fair, other eyewitnesses claim to have seem something much more monstrous than a cougar in the hills and hollows of the Ozarks. Sightings ranging from a cat much bigger than a cougar to a cat-like monster with glowing eyes and horns growing from its head have been reported.

Whatever it is, and a recent investigation in Newton County, Arkansas, obtained plaster casts of what a biologist identified as possible Puma tracks (Puma is another name for a big cat like a cougar), the Ozark Howler is very much part of the modern folklore and tradition of the Ozarks.

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