Friday, March 6, 2009

Close Encounters of the Feline Kind

or Later
I knew
the call
would come.

It was really only a matter of time.
In the past few months I have lost track of the number of sightings that have been reported to various authorities in the greater Cincinnati area of people claiming to have spotted a cougar. What was noticeably absent was the actual face to face encounter. All first hand accounts that I had learned of were of people who saw the feline, but the feline did not see the human. At least that we know of. This all changed yesterday. A woman in Mason not far from where we live had an experience she will never forget. As part of her usual routine, she let her small dog out into the back yard. She was greeted by a large puma. She stared in disbelief- it stared right back. It crouched as if ready to pounce. She gathered her wits, her dog, and backed into the house. For five to seven minutes she had the unique opportunity to witness the feline surveying its surroundings. She was able to use a neighbor's barbecue as a gauge of size when the giant cat leaped onto their deck. A good estimate is three foot from head to end, and six foot from head to tail. She guessed its weight to be about 125 pounds- quite large. The cat ambled back into the creek bed and disappeared. What is telling about this woman's eyewitness are three things. One is that she had what I call "virgin eyes". She was not aware of the local debate ensuing over the existence of cougars in Ohio. She was shocked to see so much information turn up on an Internet search she did later that day. Second, she described every detail about the cougar as normal, with one exception. She stated it has a ringed pattern on its tail. Unknowingly, she was describing a juvenile- something I was not aware of until speaking with my cat contact who helped track our property. Third, and most disturbing, the cat showed absolutely no sign of fear toward her what so ever. Either it was not aware of humans as a danger, or, it was of the opinion that she might have made a good meal. We Ohioans are at a crossroads as of yesterday. The cats are here- they are real. There is in all likelihood more than one, as the cat spotted here and around Fort Ancient is older with no tail markings. A face to face encounter has occurred with the cat not backing down in the slightest. The next call I'm waiting for is one I dread. It may take years, or months, or days. This is the call that comes from the person seeing a cat make a kill. I hope to God it is a natural kill, not some one's pet, or worse. Ohio is approaching a very real historical repeat performance of what occurred in Boulder, Colorado in the late 80's and early 90's. Cougars hadn't yet been widely recognized as residential and therefore were of no one's real concern. Livestock and pets began to disappear. Cougars were caught red handed taking off with their meal- sometimes over eight foot fences with the animal still squirming to get free. Then one snuffed out the life of an eighteen year old student taking his daily run. This got the people's attention- finally. Anyone caring to enlighten themselves should pick up a copy of The Beast in the Garden. I sincerely hope their story does not become Ohio's. I urge anyone living in southwest Ohio, especially those along the Little Miami and its tributaries to become educated about what a cougar really looks like, its tracks, and its scat. Know how to respond- Never Ever Turn Your Back, and if it comes down to it, Fight Like Hell to Get Away. Do not play dead. Know the goings on of your land. I live in a pretty remote area. The lady who had her run in yesterday lives in a neighborhood of 250 homes. Remoteness is not a factor. Above all else, tell someone who can make an official report of your sighting. You can leave a note here and I can put you in contact with someone. The very fact that cougars are returning is exciting and a wonderful example of a return to nature. But if we continue to bury our heads in the sand and not acknowledge fact, we are treading very dangerous waters to be sure.
(The above image of the puma is from the Cincinnati Zoo)

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