National Geographic : 2014 Nov
South Carolina Lowcountry 107 When I was a boy, there were fewer than two dozen of them on Earth. Now there are five or six hundred. The last time one had been seen in South Carolina was 1850. Then this pair ap- peared. Seeing them in this place suggested natural possibilities that seemed almost supernatural. But Harrigal was adamant about one of those possibilities, and so was every other wildlife biologist I met down there. “I don’t care what you hear or who you hear it from,” he said. “ There are no cougars in the ACE Basin. Elvis? Maybe. UFOs? I wouldn’t rule it out. But cougars? No. No way.” So sure enough, back home in the deep North, I’m chatting with a friend. He’s originally from Charleston, knows the ACE Basin. He’s a reliable, skeptical fellow, and a wildlife biologist himself. It wasn’t him. It was his cousin, whom he’d vouch for, even though it happened late at night and the cousin was tired. He was slowly driving down an oak-lined avenue that led into one of the plantations, where he was visiting. The thing materialized out of the woods, loped down the road ahead of him, in no great hurry. He knew what bobcats look like. Also what dogs, foxes, coyotes look like. This animal was big, very long tailed, and about the color and consistency of smoke. It turned, eyes glittering in the headlights, then bounded into the shadows. The evidence of one kind of faith is the evidence of things not seen or half seen. The evidence of another kind of faith is fact: the ACE Basin itself. j Palmettos succumb to the sea at Botany Bay Planta- tion, a favorite stop for bird-watchers, fishermen, and nesting sea turtles. As the tide of development claims more and more coastline, the value of the ACE Basin—to people as well as to wildlife—grows.