Native Paw Prints in Arkansas

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge is a non-profit organization, USDA-licensed, and GFAS-accredited facility. Our mission is to rescue big exotic cats […]

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge is a non-profit organization, USDA-licensed, and GFAS-accredited facility. Our mission is to rescue big exotic cats from the exotic pet industry or from people who think these animals will be good pets. However, we don’t just rescue big exotic cats. We also rescue smaller species, like African servals, and native Arkansas species, like bobcats, cougars, and black bears. 


Native Species:

90% of the smaller species are rescued from people who find them out in the wild and think they would make good pets. Then an incident happens, and the previous owners decide they probably shouldn’t have them as pets. They surrender them, as they won’t be able to survive in the wild because they are too accustomed to being given their food. 



Bobcats can be found here in Arkansas. They are small, but mighty predators. They are called mesopredators because they are in the middle of the food chain. Bobcats are mainly active from sunset to sunrise. Since they are native to Arkansas, let us talk about their paw prints. When out in the woods, you can look at foot prints in the snow, mud, and soft garden soil. Their prints are often confused with those of foxes and coyotes. You can distinguish them by the lack of nails and their pads being more round than foxes or coyotes. 



Cougars are also native to Arkansas. They are an animal that has many names, like pumas, mountain lions, and more. Cougars are more active during sunrise and sunset. Cougars can jump 50 feet horizontally and jump about 18 feet vertically. This animal has the widest living range of all the native species. Cougars are the 4th largest cat, after tigers, lions, and jaguars. When you are out in the woods walking around, you might be able to see a cougar’s paw print. The cougars paw prints are the largest in the cat native species. The toe pads are round and about the size of a large domesticated dog. 

Native feline species paw prints have 4 toe pad and a heel pad. Their toes are more round. Their heel pad is often the shape like an “M” and you can draw a “c” in-between the toe and heel pad space.


Black bears:

Black bears can be found in Arkansas. They are the only bear species that call Arkansas home.  In fact Arkansas used to be named the bear state before it became the natural state. At one point, we had around 50,000 bears but we nearly all hunted out in the 1930’s. We now have over 5,000 bears because of the black bear relocation program in 1958-1968. Black bears are smaller predator than brown bears. They can run faster than us and climb up a tree. If you see a black bear out in the wild do not run away. Stand still,  look them in the eyes and walk back slowly. If they start running towards you, act like you are bigger than them. Their paw prints have 5 toes and often following deer trails. 


What to do while looking for tracks?

Look for tracks early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Note their size and depth, and take pictures to help you remember. When looking for tracks, also keep an eye on any poop you may find. If you see any, it may help you determine their diet, like if they are a veggie eater or a meat eater.  When searching in the woods for paw prints, try not to get lost. Carry a map, a compass, and a GPS device in case that were to happen. Tell someone where you are going and the expected time you will be back so they know where you are. 


Other animal tracks

All animals make some sort of track in their environment. See if you can identify some paw prints in your area with this guide to animal tracks.


Bear • Arkansas Game & Fish Commission (

Animal Track Identification: Animal Footprint I.D. Chart | The Old Farmer’s Almanac

36 Most Common Animal Tracks | Identification Guide for USA – Greenbelly Meals

Bear Tracks and Trails – North American Bear Center

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