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Author Topic: Mountain Lions in Illinois
nerdymcnerd
Little Sales Drummer Boy


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It's spreading.

I'm not sure but I don't think they're native to Massachusetts.

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Four Kitties
Layaway in a Manger


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quote:
Originally posted by nerdymcnerd:
I'm not sure but I don't think they're native to Massachusetts.

Sure they are, just not recently.
quote:
Historically, mountain lions had the most extensive distribution of all American terrestrial mammals. They ranged from coast to coast in North America, and from southern Argentina and Chile to southeastern Alaska. Extermination efforts, hunting pressure, and habitat destruction have restricted their range to relatively mountainous, unpopulated areas throughout much of their range. Populations in eastern North America were entirely exterminated, except for a small population of Florida panthers.
Four Puma Kitties

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If swimming is so good for your figure, how do you explain whales?

Posts: 13275 | From: Kindergarten World, Massachusetts | Registered: Jul 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
Barns & No Bull
It Came Upon a Midnight Clearance


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quote:
If you do come face to face with a mountain lion, experts say you should not run, try to appear as big as possible and make a lot of noise.
Boston-area McDonald's are going to hear "Super Size Me!" all over again.


The only confirmed Massachusetts cougar evidence in modern times

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Morrigan
Happy Holly Days


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Something interesting happened last night.

I was out on a horse farm in the country, where my friends horse died. I mean, he (the horse) died last night.

About an hour after he died, we noticed an animal lurking around. A big wolf-like animal. And when I say wolf, I mean it looked exactly like a wolf. It wasn't a malamute, or a husky. It looked like a wolf. I'm guessing it was a hybrid, but I'll never know.

I do know that it wasn't scared of us at all. I threw rocks at it (didn't hit it, though) and while it ran, it didn't run very far. It snarled at one of the other people out there.

Morrigan

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"The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep." Robert Frost, Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening

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Four Kitties
Layaway in a Manger


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Police issue warning on mountain lion

OTOH, this morning's news had a crawler that said it is most likely a coyote or a Great Dane.

Four -here kitty kitty kitty- Kitties

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If swimming is so good for your figure, how do you explain whales?

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M'eyari
The Red and the Green Stamps


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quote:
Originally posted by minengr:
Damn grammar will get you every time. M’eyari has the correct interpretation of my question.

Lol, see this is the result of spending four years learning the intricacies of the English language...my special talent is interpreting symbolism, though. [Big Grin]

quote:
Originally posted by Barns & No Bull:
[QUOTE] Yep, I meant Randolph. My bad, and my secretary/editor never caught it.

Oops. So much for my ego-trip, lol.

Just dropping in to say that I haven't abandoned the Swamp Cat(s, if you count the lynx/bobcat sightings) Search. Monday's my next day off (without family obligations getting in the way, grrr...), so that's the day I'll be hitting the town police records for big cat sightings.

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Horse Chestnut
Happy Holly Days


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More sightings of big cats in Ohio.

quote:
"It's only a dog," she whispered. "It's a hungry, unhappy dog with only one head and hardly any coat at all, the poor thing. How could they ever take it for Cerberus? Are they all blind?"
10 points for reference? Well, maybe 5 points. Everyone tells me my quotes are too easy.
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Barns & No Bull
It Came Upon a Midnight Clearance


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(Horse, your Ohio link is not working.)

Oakland County Michigan Construction Workers Report Panther Sighting

I'm beginning to wonder if some of these Michigan black panther sightings are of fishers (Martes pennanti), which were successfully reintroduced to the state between 1961-63.

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Horse Chestnut
Happy Holly Days


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I was afraid of that, BNB. Here's the article.

(Anyone else getting tired of newpapers making you jump through hoops to read online content?)

No lion, but lots of rumors; Big cat on prowl?

by Seth Seymour
for The Columbus Dispatch
Sunday, Nov. 14, 2004

GRANVILLE, Ohio — As Officer Suzie Dawson crept toward the creature in the moonlit field, one phrase kept running through her head: "I can’t be seeing what I think I’m seeing."

So she radioed for backup.

When a fellow Granville police officer arrived at the field near the intersection of Newark-Granville and Cherry Valley roads, he saw the same thing: what appeared to be a large cat lying in the grass.

Suddenly, lion fever has returned to central Ohio.

Dawson was called to the scene the night of Nov. 3 after a Newark motorist traveling home spotted the animal.

Was it the Gahanna lion from six months ago, or the one seen near Canal Winchester in July, or the Muskingum County lion, traces of which have been spotted at least 30 times since summer?

No one knows. Many, however, are willing to guess.

Neither the Wilds animal conservatory in Muskingum County nor the Columbus Zoo will allow their employees to speculate publicly or aid in the searches.

"We want to keep our professional faces on and not be involved in this bag of theories," Wilds spokeswoman Wendy Wharff said.

But questions rise up, especially since the latest reports, including a sighting in Heath a week ago.

"It definitely wasn’t a deer or coyote," Dawson said. "We’re told if we see it again, we’re supposed to shoot it. But no one can catch it."

And if she did see it again, would she be aiming at an African lion or a mountain lion?

And how did it get here? Because none of the sightings suggested aggression by the animal toward humans, most agree that it might be an escaped pet.

But no one has reported a lost cat.

Most of the sightings have occurred in largely rural areas. It was seen by police officers twice, and once by a firefighter.

The latest sighting, 35 miles east of Columbus in Granville, was in a field near two subdivisions and stands of ripe soybeans next to woods, havens for deer and wild turkey.

If it is a breed of lion, "it’s going to be very hard to spot this animal because they’re so good at hiding," said Craig Packer of the Lion Research Center at the University of Minnesota. "It may have moved on by now."

When Granville Police Chief Steve Cartnal found a half-eaten deer carcass on Nov. 4, near where his officers had seen what they thought was a lion the night before, he decided the situation was "a problem waiting to happen."

So in a letter to village residents last week, he promised that his officers "would not joke about this and are totally serious about what they saw."

Five sightings in Granville since Nov. 3 have prompted police there to spend a week searching.

The deer carcasses left as bait by Licking County animal control officers have attracted only buzzards, however.

The lion frenzy began May 3, when what was thought to be a cat was spotted near the Columbus-Gahanna border.

More sightings occurred that day, leading officials to believe an African lion was on the loose in the Franklin County suburb.

The next day, when search crews cornered what they thought was the lion, officers were prepared with shotguns and Columbus Zoo workers were standing by with tranquilizer darts. A police helicopter circled overhead.

Turned out, it was a coyote.

Later that month, a lion was reported near an elementary school in Kirkersville in southwestern Licking County. At the time, police said, they considered it a hoax.

That was the last sighting there and in Gahanna.

But authorities in Muskingum County have been busy with signs and sightings.

"We’ve gotten actual sightings, suspicious tracks, unusual noises and livestock being injured," said Muskingum County Chief Deputy Sheriff Wes Elson.

"All the accounts we have of this animal match the description of a mountain lion."

Packer said a mountain lion seems the more likely culprit, and noted that most reports describe a cat weighing 150 to 200 pounds with a long, fluffy tail. African lions, Packer said, generally weigh more, and their tails appear thinner with tufts at the end.

"Ohio is a long way from any mountain," Packer said, but "it’s highly plausible a mountain lion could survive there."

In Muskingum County, attempts to trap the animal have failed. Retired Muskingum County farmer Don Filkill used raw meat and dog food to try to lure the beast into a box trap — so far, in vain.

But he’s not fooled.

"I know it’s still here on my farm," Filkill said. "Before the cat came around, it wasn’t anything to see deer, but now you don’t even see them anymore."

In July, when the 70-year-old and his wife discovered half-inch deep paw prints 4 inches by more than 3 inches wide in their garden, he believed he knew what had left them.

"That’s a mountain lion," Filkill told his wife.

Then he called the sheriff’s office.

Two days later, the Filkills’ 19-year-old son, Jesse, spotted what he thought was a large cat at the edge of a woods on their property, near where the family houses its coon dogs. More paw prints appeared throughout the summer, Filkill said. Keith Morrow, wildlife supervisor in the southeast region of the Ohio Division of Wildlife, said he’s seen the tracks in a photo and thought they were made by a dog. Meanwhile, rumors continue. And Cartnal said he’s taking them seriously in Granville. "I never thought in my wildest dreams I’d be hunting lions here."

seymou—s@denison.edu

(edited to add date of article)

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Keeper of the Mad Bunnies
Jingle Bell Hock


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quote:
Originally posted by Barns & No Bull:
(Horse, your Ohio link is not working.)

Oakland County Michigan Construction Workers Report Panther Sighting

FWIW - This has not appeared in the area newspapers yet. That may be why I rarely watch TV news anymore!

James Powell

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Horse Chestnut
Happy Holly Days


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This article found again in The Columbus Dispatch, which seems to have a thing for cougar stories.

Michigan park warns visitors about cougars

Sunday, November 21, 2004
Bob Downing
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

(edited by Horse Chestnut for length)

EMPIRE, Mich. — Something new is at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: cougar warning signs.
And probably cougars or mountain lions.

Signs are prominently posted at the park’s visitor centers and all 13 trail heads in the wake of repeated cougar sightings in and around the park that lies along Lake Michigan west of Traverse City.

The park’s message is simple and is intended to raise public awareness: You are a visitor in cougar country. Cougars deserve your respect and attention. You are no longer atop the food chain.
Cougar sightings are rare, but the National Park Service wants the 1.1 million annual visitors to Sleeping Bear Dunes to know what to do and what not to do if they encounter one of the tawny-colored cats with black-tipped ears and tails.
The risk to humans is small but real. Cougars have killed 20 people in North America and injured 75 in the past 100 years, according to researchers.

Cougars were once common in Michigan’s 83 counties, but they were wiped out by bounty hunters by the early 1900s.

The warning signs went up a year ago, triggered by growing numbers of sightings by credible witnesses including wildlife biologists and rangers at Sleeping Bear Dunes, said Tom Ulrich, assistant park superintendent.

Park officials are convinced that the park has one or more mountain lions, although Ulrich said no one knows how many cats might be in and around the 71,000-acre park.

Many of the sightings were along the Old Indian Trail at the southern end of the park near Frankfort.

Park volunteer Eleanor Cummings, in a widely publicized incident, came within 3 feet of a cougar that stalked her along that trail for 20 minutes in September 2003, but the big cat never attacked her.

The park’s sightings have increased, Ulrich said, from one every few years in the early 1980s to perhaps 20 a year

It is possible that some Michigan cougar reports may be linked to captive-bred animals that were released into the wild, said Michigan Department of Natural Resources spokesman Brad Wurfel.
The Michigan Wildlife Conservancy, a grass-roots group, believes that the captive-bred cougars have reproduced and spread to at least eight Michigan counties. The group estimates that there are 50 to 80 cougars in the state.

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Barns & No Bull
It Came Upon a Midnight Clearance


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quote:
Originally posted by Horse of a Different Chestnut:

"The warning signs went up a year ago, triggered by growing numbers of sightings by credible witnesses including wildlife biologists and rangers at Sleeping Bear Dunes, said Tom Ulrich, assistant park superintendent."

It is difficult to understand just what is going on in Michigan. The Michigan Wildlife Conservancy cannot be trusted. They also seem to have established dupes in the media to publish their views as if they were factual. There remains no confirmed wild cougars in any part of the state, including the Upper Peninsula.

Michigan Outdoor News article that was posted earlier in this thread.

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Keeper of the Mad Bunnies
Jingle Bell Hock


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There may not be any confirmed sitings, but the signs are real:

Cougar Information

This is from the official National Park Service website.

James Powell

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jimzmum
The Red and the Green Stamps


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Hi all. I registered because I came across this site searching for a reasonable explanation of what I saw. I live in Monroe County, Illinois. This is a rural county, but quite close to St. Louis. Saturday afternoon, I was on a back road on the way to a levee to watch for eagles. I slowed to get ready to turn on a levee road, and as I completed, what I thought was a black panther (I know, I know) came across, too. It was really moving out, and I think I scared the poor thing.

It was not a dog. It looked like a big cat. It looked like a "black panther". I stopped and watched it as it tracked across a field of corn stubble, heading east away from the Mississippi. It was moving like a member of the cat family - not at all like a dog.

I called a friend who knows everything about this county and asked him what I had seen. He told me that there have been sightings of this "whatever it is" in the county, so I don't feel like such a danged eejut. My eagle-watching season will begin soon, and I am hoping to see this feller again. This time, I plan not to sit in the truck with my mouth open and the camera beside me. I hope I can get a picture.

I didn't get out of the truck, because I was on the levee road, and that road is almost one lane wide at best, and it was very muddy. I hope I can see this animal again in a location where I can take a picture of tracks.

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Barns & No Bull
It Came Upon a Midnight Clearance


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Jimzmum, welcome to snopes!

Take video of this animal. If you have a digital camera with movie mode, use that as well as taking clear still shots.

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jimzmum
The Red and the Green Stamps


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Thank you for the welcome. I plan to do just that. I have a wonderful old Sony that uses floppies, and has a movie mode. As soon as the idiotic rain stops, and I can get through the mud to the levee, that is exactly what I plan to do. Of course, you realize that, now I am prepared, I will never see this thing again. Ah well, there are always the eagles.
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Barns & No Bull
It Came Upon a Midnight Clearance


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Mum, did you not feel some responsibility to inform authorities?

These are potentially dangerous animals. Much larger than a dog!


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Horse Chestnut
Happy Holly Days


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Man, look at the tarter on those teeth! What are they feeding that poor kitty, Cheerios?

Horse "For pity sakes, somebody get that cat a zebra!" Chestnut

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Wiley
The Red and the Green Stamps


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Hi all, way further east in New York. Near Star lake a co-worker saw a big cat. This man knows cat from dog, sadly it was dry weather. My wifes family has land near there and I will be rabbit hunting, who knows.
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ubermensch
The Red and the Green Stamps


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Dead mountain lion found in Mercer County, Illinois over the weekend. No word if it was an escaped pet or not. Here's some local coverage:

http://www.qconline.com/archives/qco/sections.cgi?prcss=display&id=222100

http://www.kwqc.com/Global/story.asp?S=2654600

Video footage (I think): http://www.nytbcast.com/wqad/video/video_player.php?clip=cougar1a.rm

http://www.qctimes.com/internal.php?story_id=1040908&l=1&t=Local+News&c=2,1040908

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bluedog69
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The article about MI up above is incorrect. It states that the MWC believes the captive bred cats have reproduced. They don't believe they are captive bred cats at all, but part of a remnant population that is reproducing.

I also don't trust anyone that is trying to prove the MWC is wrong. They may not have fully proved all of their claims yet, but I think that single word is the key "yet". They are supposed to be releasing a peer reviewed paper very soon with many of thier findings.

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work
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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Well, after checking out that video footage, I would hope that this is enough to quell the naysayers...

Perhaps this is finally enough "evidence" to prove that there was/are mountain lions in illinois.

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Barns & No Bull
It Came Upon a Midnight Clearance


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I hope the Illinois DNR can determine its origin.

This is weird:

quote:
He called over a friend, Aledo veterinarian Jeremy Joy. Aside from the wound, the cat looked in good health, Joy says.

But the cat's sunken eyes and abdomen indicated extreme dehydration. The lack of water could have reduced the beast's weight by 20 pounds or more, Joy says.

Joy says the cougar likely had been shot a day or two earlier. It probably had sought refuge in or under the pine tree.

A cougar in "good health" that lost 20 pounds in a couple days to dehydration. Uh... [Confused]

Kenny Tharp routinely treks all the way out West to hunt mountain lions.

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minengr
The Red and the Green Stamps


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I thought I would share this FWIW. As I posted earlier, I have heard stories of Pumas/Panthers/Cougars for years. During Thanksgiving weekend I went on my annual pheasant hunt with friends of the family and asked one of my hunting buddies if he had heard any new “Panther” stories. He mentioned that he had, and the identity of the witness. I knew the witness and later that weekend asked him about what he saw. The man that saw the “Panther” is an avid coon hunter and has hunted throughout Southern Illinois. He too has heard the stories for years and never believed them to be true. He said “I’ve coon hunted everywhere in So. IL. and I’ve never seen anything to make me believe there were/was a Panther in So. IL.” That was until he saw one in the spring of 1998. He describe the event, he was fishing on old mine property when he crested a strip hill and saw the Panther on the next hill to the east. He claimed he was less than 25 yards from the cat and got a very good look at it and therefore could not mistake it for something else. He described it as a very large cat probably 6-7 feet in length from nose to tail with a black coat. He was very adamant that it didn’t look like a typical cougar/puma (brown coat) but that it was black, and seeing it mid afternoon, was quite confident of its color. We discussed it for several minutes.

I told him the only part that was difficult for me to accept was that it was an actual panther, because to the best of my knowledge they are only found in South America. I can believe the possibility of a puma/cougar, but not a true panther.

So, my question to those of you more knowledgeable, if it was a big cat, what could it have been and how do you explain the dark coat? This is a man I’ve known for several years, and has no reason to lie. In fact he commented that he was approached by the local TV station for an interview (because he and his business are well know and respected in So. IL.) and declined.

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Barns & No Bull
It Came Upon a Midnight Clearance


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Not much else like a black panther. People seem to regularly mistake house cats and dogs for them when "black panthers" are reported in an area. All the photos and videos I've seen presented as black panthers were not.

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Barns & No Bull
It Came Upon a Midnight Clearance


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quote:
Originally posted by bluedog69:

I also don't trust anyone that is trying to prove the MWC is wrong. They may not have fully proved all of their claims yet, but I think that single word is the key "yet". They are supposed to be releasing a peer reviewed paper very soon with many of thier findings.

Do you not think it is wrong for the MWC to host videos of kitty cats and say that it is evidence for wild cougars? Even if they are correct about cougars living in Michigan, this is an intellectually dishonest way of supporting it. It will be interesting to see who the "peers" are that review the MWC research paper.

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nerdymcnerd
Little Sales Drummer Boy


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Over the weekend I dreamed a black panther was in our garage - that it got stuck in there, so we called my dad to get it out, then my brother came over and made us pancakes while my dad coaxed the panther out of a box it was hiding in. The panther jumped out and ran our of the garage, then I started taking pictures of it and couldn't wait to go on snopes and post them here. I was really bummed when I woke up and realized it didn't happen.

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ubermensch
The Red and the Green Stamps


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http://www.qctimes.com/internal.php?t=Search&doc=/2004/12/15/stories/local/1041548.txt

A sighting near New Boston, IL, where that last cougar was found dead. Possible breeding pair?

Most of the remains of the dead one were sent to Southern IL University for study.

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Barns & No Bull
It Came Upon a Midnight Clearance


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I believe that both cougars found in Illinois were males. According to studies, young males are the most likely individuals to travel great distances.

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ubermensch
The Red and the Green Stamps


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http://www.qctimes.com/internal.php?story_id=1041648&l=1&t=Local+News&c=2,1041648

Another sighting, same area

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bluedog69
The Red and the Green Stamps


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Barns and No Bull you wrote:
"Do you not think it is wrong for the MWC to host videos of kitty cats and say that it is evidence for wild cougars? Even if they are correct about cougars living in Michigan, this is an intellectually dishonest way of supporting it. It will be interesting to see who the "peers" are that review the MWC research paper."

I have seen the original VHS copy and I don't think they are house cats. All of the experts that "analyzed" the tape(or should I say internet clip) just eyeballed it and said they are house cats. Lot of "science" involved in that isn't there. The MWC on the other hand has had the "original" tape analyzed by a video analysis expert and he came up with 6' cats.

Them must be some big kittys...as you put it.

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Barns & No Bull
It Came Upon a Midnight Clearance


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Bluedog, did you not see the reviews of this video by prominant zoologists and cougar biologists? Their responses seem to indicate that they may have seen copies of the original video as well. Seven different researchers have declared that the footage shows two house cats. This is based on overall appearance and behavior.

Expert review of the MWC "cougar" video.

The MWC continues to represent a found cougar skull as evidence of a wild cat population even after it has been reported that this skull came from a captive pet cougar. This is among other bogus cougar evidence that they offer as legitimate, without even a disclaimer added after cougar researchers have declared these things inconclusive or likely to be outright hoaxes. The MWC is doing a terrible disservice to the residents of Michigan by misrepresenting what they have. Even if there are wild cougars of non-captive origin in the state, this is not an honest way of supporting it.

We shall see how open to general peer review they make their forthcoming presentation of evidence.

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Terrified, mortified, petrified, stupefied... by you!

Posts: 3157 | From: Illinois | Registered: Dec 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
Uncle Occam
The Red and the Green Stamps


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I have read the posts here on the Michigan cougar issue with great interest. I'm in Michigan, have followed the antics of the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy, which consists of 2 individuals, Dennis Fijalkowski and Pat Rusz, PhD. Three or 4 years ago they began claiming wild, breeding cougars exist in Michigan, and that cougars were never extirpated from Michigan, having survived all these years "in the swamps". These two, even though they have advanced degrees in wildlife biology from Michigan State Univ., have clearly demonstrated an astonishing and inexplicable level of incompetence, dishonesty, and unprofessionalism on this issue. At no time have they EVER scientifically proven their endless claims.

Yet, they traverse the state giving free talks to various groups, and they have managed to thoroughly co-opt a number of news "reporters", who eagerly, unquestioningly, and repeatedly publish the MWC claims. Eric "NotToo" Sharp of the Detroit Free Press has been the most egregious , and may as well be (perhaps he is...?) the MWC publicity director.

I especially appreciate Barns & No Bull's very sharp and astute comments. Barns, you are right on the money with these two voodoo scientists.

As for the video MWC released last summer, purporting to show 2 cougars in Monroe Co. Michigan: it is total nonsense, and shows only house cats, other than a couple still pictures of cougars. Those stills by the way, are of unknown provenance, regardless of the MWC claims that they were taken in Michigan.

Barns, I believe the Cougar Network experts did not see the VHS tape of the video, only the downloaded wmv file from the MWC web site. But, I've seen the VHS. It doesn't matter. The animals are obviously house cats. Hard to figure why bluedog69 thinks they are cougars.

Anyone interested might check a yahoo group named "easterncougar", at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/easterncougar/,
to follow an interesting discussion by supporters and critics/detractors of MWC. A poster named "wlbio" seems to take a line similar to Barns here on snopes. One must register to read and post on the yahoo group.

Barns, I assume you've seen the MWC video. I'm very interested in your thoughts on the comical and ludicrous "size analysis" MWC did in this video, upon which they base their claim that the kitties are 5 or 6 feet long. They claim the analysis was done by a forensic video expert named Bob Bishop, of Okemos, Michgan. Yet, the analysis is absurd. I don't believe they can do what they claim without the kitties and reference objects (deer, man) being in the precise, exact same spot, and with the camera in the exact same spot, with the exact same zoom or telephoto setting. No one has professionally debunked this part of the video yet. I'm certain it is invalid, but don't have expert qualifications needed to dispute it publically.

A fellow named Joe Lankalis has recently gone to considerable length on the yahoo group to dispute the MWC video.

This, the MWC Michigan cougar claim, is an interesting topic to me, particularly as it relates to good science and pseudo, or voodoo, science, so I hope this discussion on snopes might continue to focus on it.

Unckie.

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Xia
Happy Xmas (Warranty Is Over)


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quote:
Originally posted by M'eyari:

1) It was black.
2) It was a feline.
3) It's height at its shoulder was the same as a large German Shepherd (I'll estimate 3' high at the shoulder, maybe 3.5')

Sorry if this was already addressed in another post but just wanted to mention that is WAY too tall for a German Shepherd! 3' high at the shoulder is about as tall as a very big Irish Wolfhound. The Guinness record for the tallest dog ever is slightly under 3.5' tall at the shoulder.

German Shepherd are more like 2 ft tall at the shoulder (actually about 24-26" for males) so a large Shepherd would probably be about 26-28" or so.

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Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes.

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minengr
The Red and the Green Stamps


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Scientists tracking eastward movement of cougars

by Paula M. Davenport

CARBONDALE, Ill. - Like most young outdoorsmen, he seems to be seeking the simple things in life: A quiet, out-of-the-way place to call home, great deer hunting grounds and a soul mate with whom to start a family.

No wonder he's looking in the agricultural Midwest, what with its remaining forests and abundant venison.

However, he's not your average kind of guy - he's a cougar.

"There have been 21 confirmed cougars in nine Midwestern states and one Canadian province in the past 18 months. In the 10 years before that, we had one or two a year," says Clayton K. Nielsen, a wildlife ecologist at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and director of scientific research for the Cougar Network, a non-profit research group that tracks "hard evidence" of cougar movements and networks with federal, state and other wildlife agencies.

"The phenomenon of cougars showing up in the Midwest is a relatively new one. It's the acceleration that's got people really interested right now," says Nielsen, a scientist with the SIUC Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory.

Nielsen and the Network are tracking scientifically confirmed cougar appearances on a "big picture map" that's yielding a comprehensive view of the cats' movements outside their contemporary ranges.

Mere sightings don't count. Carcasses, cougar DNA and verifiable photos are better measures.

These data, says Nielsen, are the most credible to date on cougars' eastward migration. With the information, scientists may begin to make educated predictions on how cougars may fare if and when they get here.

"From a research perspective, we want to know where the movement corridors are, how the cougars are getting here and if they do, we'd like to know if there's enough habitat for them to survive and to eventually re-colonize," Nielsen says.

One thing's for sure: These cats will brave the water. Those showing up in the Midwest first must successfully swim the Mississippi River.

As a species, cougars, also known as mountain lions, panthers or pumas, were extirpated from the eastern half of the United States - with the exception of Florida - about 150 years ago.

Today, our continent's biggest cats usually occupy secluded tracts of land out West.

But rising cougar populations and habitat loss there appear to be major factors in the felines' recent forays east, says Nielsen.

In December, a cougar - who'd been shot by an archer - was found by another hunter after the cat collapsed and died in the family owned woodlands in Mercer County, Ill., across the Mississippi River from rural Iowa.

A second cougar turned up dead on a railroad tracks near the Mississippi River town of Chester, Ill., in June, 2000.

"That one was a relatively young male, four-six years old, who'd recently eaten a fawn and appeared to be a wild animal," says Nielsen, who was present at the cat's necropsy, conducted at the University's Wildlife Lab.

In some cases, these cougars may be released pets, he adds.

Still, there's no reason to lock and load.

"The likelihood of a human getting attacked by a cougar here in Illinois is lower than death by vending machine," Nielsen says. "There are much more dangerous risks out there to worry about."

"But there are no breeding populations of cougars in the Midwest. So the cougars coming here aren't going to find one of the things they're most interested in and that's mates," he explains.

In their travels, they continue seeking suitable partners until they're either killed by hunters, hit by cars or trains or perhaps decide to turn around and head back home.

So it remains uncertain whether cougars can re-establish themselves outside the West.

"There's no fear we're going to be overrun anytime soon. But I do think this is a naturally occurring phenomenon. And whether you're in favor of it or not, it appears to be happening. As scientists, we'd like to help people plan for their possible arrival and to figure out whether or not we can co-exist."

Leading in research, scholarly and creative activities are among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.

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