Be careful where you place your archery targets, they may just cause a public panic. The Austin Parks and Recreation Department started investigating possible mountain lion sightings in a local park after hikers reported seeing a large, cat-like animal last week. According to WSB-TV, concerned park rangers investigated the scene and did find what appeared to be large tracks, ending up calling for biologists to confirm the species of the animal. However, it did not take long for officials to discover that the tracks were actually made by a harmless archery target.

In fact, the target was not even a mountain lion, but instead a cheetah. The Austin American-Statesman reported that the target was owned by the local Austin Archery Club and was spotted near the Turkey Creek Trail at Emma Long Metropolitan Park. Michael Law, one of the several hikers who spotted the target, said he ended up “running for his life” after the encounter.

“It was huge. We thought it was a full-on lion at first,” Law, who was hiking with his wife, told the Statesman. “It was the biggest thing, like a Great Dane but twice as heavy.”

None of the other hikers stuck around to identify the large cat either. Park officials said they were initially skeptical, but decided to play it safe and investigate the incident. Texas has a significant cougar population, but the cats tend to stick to remote mountains or other areas with a few humans. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department stated on its website that mountain lions are generally found across the Trans-Pecos, the south Texas brushlands, and in sections of the Hill Country. Cougars have been expanding their territory over the last 10 years, but still rarely live so close to a metropolitan area.

Officials also say that running away from a cougar may be a bad idea. The safest course of action when encountering a mountain lion is to stand your ground, make yourself appear larger, and slowly back away without turning your back. Fleeing may trigger the cat’s instinctive urge to chase prey. Experts recommend fighting back if the mountain lion attacks.

Image from D Coetzee on the flickr Creative Commons

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