Bob and I spend the summers in northern New Mexico. We enjoy the idyllic mountain scenery, the wildlife, the enriching tricultural experience in art, food, and the wonderful people who live here. Some are full time residents while others, like us, are only part timers.
After we arrived at our cabin, I was surprised we’d had a visitor who had left his calling card.
Ever the investigator, I wanted to identify our intruder. I asked friends, family, and long-time residents to help me out. Most people offered suggestions like a cougar, a mountain lion, a bobcat. One person thought they were coyote tracks, and another, trying to be funny, thought they were left by aliens!
I compared the paw prints left in the dust on the front deck to online research, and to photos a friend sent me from a wood block she keeps for easy reference in her mountain home.
It was easy to rule out deer, elk, turkey, or badger.
Next, I could rule out a fox, coyote, or bear since our prints did not have evidence of claws. That left the cougar!
Long time-residents claimed they had not seen any cougars in the area, yet my research indicated that New Mexico has a cougar population of 3,494 that are eighteen months of age or older as of 2023¹.
Sadly, my research also revealed that cougars are considered recreational game animals in New Mexico, and at the current rate of hunting and trapping, they will soon be at risk. In 2019, the state did prohibit trapping of cougars in certain areas.
I fully understand that cougars and other wildcats can be dangerous to people, pets, other wildlife, and livestock. Yet, these are beautiful animals that need protection to prevent them from going extinct.
A friend asked me if I’d be putting cougars into a novel in the future. The truth is I don’t know if a cougar will ever appear in a Nikki Garcia mystery or not. The question is valid since I have included dogs, crows, and mules in previous mysteries. Whenever I’m writing a novel, if pets or wild animals add to the story, yes, I love incorporating them into the story. In the meantime, my husband and I will enjoy the deer, elk, coyote, turkey, and birds we see in this mountain retreat.
¹New Mexico Mountain Lion Foundation
Kathryn Lane writes mystery and suspense novels usually set in foreign countries. In her award-winning Nikki Garcia Mystery Series, her protagonist is a private investigator based in Miami. Her latest publication is a coming-of-age novel, Stolen Diary, about a socially awkward math genius.
Kathryn’s early work life started out as a painter in oils. To earn a living, she became a certified public accountant and embarked on a career in international finance with Johnson & Johnson.
Two decades later, she left the corporate world to create mystery and suspense thrillers, drawing inspiration from her travels in over ninety countries as well as her life in Mexico, Australia, Argentina, and the United States.
She also dabbles in poetry, an activity she pursues during snippets of creative renewal. In the summer, Kathryn and her husband, Bob Hurt, escape the Texas heat for the mountains of northern New Mexico.
Paw Prints in the Dust – photo by Kathryn Lane
Wood Block Paw Prints – photo by Sharon Sorensen
Cougar – CA-Jason-Klassi-08