A cougar, on the right, is seen behind deer near Edom in Van Zandt County.

“This is the first cougar picture I have seen, and I’ve been here over 30 years as a veterinarian,” Dr. Dwayne Collins said after studying a photo of a cougar behind three deer one mile west of Edom in Van Zandt County. “This is the first clean picture I’ve seen in over 30 years of being a veterinarian.”

Collins said there is good and bad with cougars in the area. The good is chasing off or killing feral hogs. The bad means residents should not leave their small dogs and cats unattended.

“Just be cautious. Most of the time, wild animals like that will try to evade people,” Collins said. “But anytime you corner them, it’s the opposite. If a feral hog has a young hog or litter, they can get aggressive.

“This area is full of feral hogs. I am going out with my night vision and shotgun tonight,” Collins continued. “There are plenty of farms here. In a way, I’m glad we have the cougar because they keep the feral hogs down. But they will eat feral cats and they will go after dogs. If it’s not a big intimidating dog, they will take prey on them.”

For years, residents have contacted Collins about cougar sightings. He said many have been false. But he said there have been times he saw marks on wood or the way animals were killed.

“There’s a lot of legend behind these sightings, but there is a lot of truth, too,” Collins said. “One farmer had three goats tethered, tied up alive. A cougar came up, killed one and tried to drag it off but it was tied up. Then did it to the next one. And the next one. You could see what happened from the claw marks.”

He added that he has a file on cougar sightings in East Texas as well as photos he has taken. However, this is the clearest photo he has seen.

“Once a year, someone will sight one, but an actual picture, this is a first,” Collins said. “I’ve gone out where foals have been dead, calves have been dead and it had to be a cougar. This is the first time we’ve seen a picture this clear.”

As for the photo, Collins studied it and believes the cougar did not harm the deer.

“There are three full-grown deer ahead of him, and I don’t know if he went after them, but if they had fawns ... they are history,” Collins said.

Collins said he has been looked at as the expert on cougar sightings in the area since Roland Hallmark passed away in July 2020.

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John is a two-time national columnist of the year and AP award-winner in Texas and New York for breaking news, videos and sports. He earned the Thomas J. Bulson Investigative Journalism award and has appeared on CNBC's American Greed, FOX and CNN.