How many cougars are there in Texas? NOBODY KNOWS! The official stance of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TP&WD), the state agency we all pay to manage our wildlife, has been that the cougar populations have been expanding. How do they know that? They track the lion population based on sightings and reported mortalities. Neither method offers a viable scientific estimate of the population.
Sightings are reported to TP&WD a myriad of ways, the most public one via a "1-800" phone number. Most of the time, these reports are not validated. (Hopefully, the person doing the reporting can tell the difference between a bobcat and a mountain lion--but there are some people who can't!)
Secondly, there is no way of knowing how many cats have actually been seen. Did two people in one area see two cats or did they see the same one at two different times and places? Did they see a resident cat multiple times or several transient cats passing through?
Thirdly, I believe that using sightings as a means of estimating the population can give an inflated result since it doesn't account for human encroachment into lion habitat. As we move more and more into lion country...something we are doing...the number of sightings are bound to increase even if the cat population is stagnant...or declining. This will happen until the population is almost extinct, at which time I would expect the number of sightings to drastically decline.
Tracking mountain lion mortalities is considered by some biologists to be a valid tool to measure a population's health. However, tracking mortalities seems valid only if the average mortality rate of a healthy population is known--and that means that the size of the population must be known-- and if the population factors when the mortality rate was established have not changed.
And this doesn't even account for the fact that in Texas there are very few mortality reporting requirements when it comes to the puma.
Both these approaches--sightings and mortality tracking--fall into a wildlife management technique called "post management". The danger with using "post management" is that you'll never know there is a problem until it is too late.
Click here to see what is known!