From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Big Cat Sightings

Wild cats amongst us


NOTE: If you're seeking information about photos of a big cougar killed on a Trigg County, KY, highway, the e-mail is a hoax. That big cat has been the star of so many bogus e-mails that it has finally been listed by Snopes.com. Also see the March 10, 2008, Kentucky New Era story: "Mountain Lion Exists Only in Hoax," (subscription required). I hope you enjoy reading this article anyway, though.

Dennis has been watching a show about big cats in the U.S. this morning. To be specific, he's watching a "Monster Quest"show about unexplained repeated sightings of black cats that are several times larger than large domestic cats.

MonsterQuest: Lions in the Backyard
Airs on Monday January 21 04:00 PM

Mountain lions do occasionally attack humans, and when they do it makes headlines across the country. However, it has been reported that people are seeing something else--attacks by large black cats. Pictures and law enforcement encounters prove a big black cat is out there, while it resembles a mountain lion, there is no such thing as a black mountain lion. From Texas to Minnesota to West Virginia, follow the eyewitness accounts and physical evidence of these demon cats. Bones from a carcass that eyewitnesses claim was a huge black cat will be put to the DNA test. One-part history, one-part science and one part monsters discover the truth behind legendary monsters.

Source: Upcoming episodes of Monster Quest on the History Channel

It's been an interesting show. Many of the photographs and videos can be explained or dismissed, but a few cannot. At the end of the show, the bones of the "cat" turn out to be a domestic dog. The official verdict is that most of the "big black cats" are mis-identified bears, dogs, or housecats. A few might be exotic cats, escaped or released from private zoos. Of course, these explanations do not satisfy those who have actually seen the big black cats.

Big cats in northern Nebraska during my childhood


Mountain lionWhen I was growing up in north-central Nebraska, there were reports of mountain-lion sightings from time to time. Usually, the big cat was observed in or near the wooded canyons of a river or creek.

I am sure that some of the reports were true. The mountain lion (also known as cougar, panther, or puma) was once native to Nebraska. Plenty of suitable habitat could still be found in northern Nebraska in the 1950s and 1960s (and still can be found today.) The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has recently confirmed the return of the mountain lion to Nebraska -- even in and around Omaha, as reported by the Plains Feeder in 2005!

In my childhood, every now and then someone would shoot a bobcat, usually around a canyoned area. Maybe the bobcat was bothering the livestock -- or at least, the rancher was worried that the bobcat might bother the livestock. I think I remember a few photos in the newspaper of dead bobcats laid out in the back of someone's pickup truck. They may have been trophies of an official bobcat hunting season, and I didn't realize it.

Mountain Lions Around Kansas City


My husband grew up near the Missouri River in Independence, Missouri. When he was little, many stories were told of mountain lions along the river, but none of them were ever proven.

Then, about ten years ago, when the Missouri River had a major flood, many reports were made that mountain lions had been spotted in the residential areas near the river. As I recall, a policeman even reported seeing a mountain lion in a little field within Independence.

After so many unconfirmed sightings through the years, many people felt vindicated when a mountain lion was hit and killed on the Interstate in the greater Kansas City area. Even the Missouri Conservation Department has finally admitted that there's evidence of a growing mountain lion population in Missouri.

Bobcats and Cougars in Christian County, Kentucky


Here in Christian County, Kentucky, we occasionally have reports of mountain lions. Of course, they are never confirmed. We have large areas of rough, wooded hills and plenty of streams, especially in northern Christian County. Our over-abundance of deer would be attractive to big cats, so I don't arbitrarily dismiss mountain lion stories.

I can testify that there are bobcats (Lynx rufus fasciatus) here, because I've seen two of them. One time, we were visiting a neighbor who lives near Pilot Rock. As we stood outside his house, a large bobcat crossed the field in front of us, several hundred yards away.

BobcatOur neighbor pointed out the bobcat. It was well camouflaged in the tall dry grass, and I probably wouldn't have noticed it, on my own. He commented that he saw that bobcat frequently. I don't know how he knew it was the same one!

It is interesting to note that a couple hundred acres around this neighbor's house was in the CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) so it hadn't been used for crops or livestock in a decade or more. The property also includes a creek that runs through a rocky ravine and associated woodlands.

About six or seven years ago, a bobcat ran in front of my car as I drove home from work one dark winter night. I was caught by surprise, and I couldn't imagine what it was! I knew it wasn't a fox or a coyote.

Just a day later, someone brought a stuffed bobcat into the office for my boss. When I saw it, I immediately recognized the animal that had crossed my headlights. I should have known it was a bobcat, but it was a lot smaller than I had expected.

I suspect that I once heard a bobcat in the ravine that lies between our house and the highway below us. One hot summer night about midnight, I went outside to enjoy the cool night breeze that always wafts up from the valley below us.

As I sat there in the dark, listening to the tree frogs and cicadas, I heard a wild scream from the ravine. It was a little unsettling, so I went in the house and went to bed. It may have been a screech owl, but it sounded like a cat to me.

Related:
PDF map of confirmed mountain lion sightings in Nebraska, 1991-2007
US map: Confirmed sightings of cougars outside their established range, 1990-present
Website that lists "Alien Big Cats" around the world

9 comments:

Limey said...

We have no indigenous large cats, yet there are reported sightings of large (usually black) cats over here. The most notorious of which is the 'Beast of Bodmin' I am torn between thinking it is the product of a fertile imagination or some escaped exotic pet.The only 'credible' pictures of this animal look like something that would curl up on your lap and purr.

Genevieve said...

Hi, Limey. I read a little about your wild black cats in the UK. It's possible that they really are an unknown species -- but not very probable.

Just imagine how exciting it must have been for the colonists who came to the New World and saw unknown species of animals all the time. I'll bet some strange stories were told.

RunAwayImagination said...

During the winter of 1994-95 my wife and I rented a 200 year-old farmhouse outside of Waterford, VA (see http://www.waterfordva-wca.org/about.htm). Our landlord rented out the 114 acres surrounding the house for 30 to 40 head of cattle. Several times at night we heard the blood-curdling scream of a bobcat. One day I discovered the spine of a calf near some large holes in the ground that I assumed were the cat's lair.

Genevieve said...

I've read that if they scream, it is because they have been threatened. It's their "Big Scary Noise."

ptg said...

Those cats gave everyone in Omaha a big thrill. We haven't seen any since then, so I'm guessing it wasn't the work of rewilders or Dept. of Natural Resources agents gone bad.

Genevieve said...

I did a bit of googling for "rewilders" and that was interesting, for sure. I came across the term "anarcho-primitivists" applied to some of them on one website.

While I was writing this post, I read someone's theory about wildlife authorities being involved in the cougar resurgence. The writer thought that the state wildlife people were releasing cougars because they were under great pressure from the car insurance companies to do something about the deer over-population.

Anonymous said...

Last night I did see a med wild Cat in Overland Park KS. It looked like a bobcat but it was gray and had a very long tail. I would say It was about a 60 to 80 pound wild cat. I would like to know if a bobcat can have a very long tail?

Genevieve said...

Bobcats have "bob" tails -- that is, stubby tails. If it had a very long tail, you may well have seen a cougar (mountain lion.)

Anonymous said...

A few years ago we saw a mountain lion at Shawnee Mission Lake...it was right after we took a walk on the trail with my small children. It was cool and scary at the same time. Today I almost hit a bobcat that ran in front of the truck I drive. This happened on Old Effingham Rd in Effingham, KS. Always awesome to see the shyer wildlife! Glad I didn't hit him!

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