Indiana officials suspect cougar on prowl in rural county

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Rural residents fear cougar on prowl

By Diane Frederick, Indianapolis Star.

October 17, 2001  

LEBANON, Ind. -- State wildlife officials suspect a cougar or other large cat is on the loose in Boone County and has mauled a colt.

Indiana Department of Natural Resources officials said:

• A 6-month-old 500-pound colt was attacked in its closed stall in a barn south of Lebanon on Sept. 30.

• A large cat believed to be a cougar was sighted in the same area on Oct. 7.

• A DNR wildlife biologist found paw prints believed to be those of a large cat on Oct. 9.

"There was no sighting the day of the attack on the horse, but going by the possible sighting and the paw prints, we're treating it as a large cat until we can make a determination otherwise," said Conservation Officer Dan Dulin.

DNR district wildlife biologist Rick Peercy said cougars or mountain lions have not been indigenous to Indiana since the mid-1800s, lending to the theory that the cat escaped or was freed by its owner.

Jana Klein reported to DNR that her colt was mauled in her family's barn at Fayette sometime between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Sept. 30.

Photographs of the colt, named Winston, taken shortly after the attack show multiple gashes and puncture wounds on Winston's sides and rump.

"Horses are our life," said Klein, who with her husband, Rich, raises and shows horses. "But my concern more so than the horses is that I have three children -- a 5-year-old, 8- and 10-year-old. They play in the barn every day."

Veterinarian Dr. Chris Ernst, who treated Winston at Benker Veterinary Clinic at Noblesville, said, "It was something with claws. There were four pretty linear lacerations that could have been from a big claw."

Dr. Ernst said he did not believe the wounds were caused by a coyote or dog.

"I haven't seen anything like this," he said.

A week after the attack, Jana Klein's parents, Carl and Nina Crane, saw a large cat they believe was a cougar on their neighboring farm.

Nina Crane said, "It was about 7 a.m. My sister-in-law, Linda Armstrong, saw it first. She called me to the window, then I got my husband."

"The three of us were watching it come down a grass path in the 60-acre field behind our house. It would hop over into the weeds like it was hopping onto a rabbit, then it came down to our creek and went south into the creek," she said.

Nina Crane said, "I poured plaster of Paris in the tracks. We got cougar footprints off the Internet and they match the tracks."

The prints are 4-1/4 inches wide and show no toenails, suggesting the animal had retractile claws like a cat, Klein said.

Peercy said saw prints about 15 to 20 feet from the barn on Oct. 9. He said the prints measured 31/2 by 31/2 inches and "had similarities to a large cat."

Asked if he thought the animal was a cougar, Peercy said, "I saw the condition of the colt. He'd been attacked by something. He was very tore up. We saw the prints and the lady that lives next door (Crane) described a large, tawny-colored cat with a large tail and round ears that she had seen on the seventh of October. You do the math."

Crane said she has seen conservation officers in the fields looking for the animal, but believes an organized, concerted effort is needed to capture the cat.

She said her family has distributed about 250 fliers to warn their rural neighbors of the possible danger.

Peercy said the DNR does not have the manpower, time or money to hunt the animal, which may have a range of up to 100 miles.

He said he talked with a local trapper who said he would set up traps for $150 and charge an additional $100 if he caught the cat.

"That falls on the responsibility of the landowner," Peercy said.

He said that a cougar is not protected as an endangered species in Indiana, so the landowner could shoot it on sight.

Crane said a tenant on her parents' farm, about 11/2 miles south of Fayette, told her he saw a cougar.

The tenant, Jermaine Newman, said he saw a big cat one afternoon in late July or early August.

Newman said he was pulling into his garage when he saw the animal about 50 yards from his house. The house is about 600 yards off Ind. 267, across the highway from White Lick Golf Course.

"We stared at each other for about a second, then it reached down, picked up what looked like a (dead) beaver or raccoon and hauled it to the creek," Newman said.

Newman said he'd also seen slaughtered rabbits and large cat-like paw prints.

"If that thing got a hold of a little kid, something really bad could happen," Newman said.

Sue Swain, who lives at New Brunswick, about eight miles west of Fayette, said her dog was attacked last spring but she was reluctant to talk publicly about it because she didn't think anyone would believe her.

Now, she said, "I truly believe it was a cougar."

Swain said she let out her mixed breed dog Crissy, which is about the size of a cocker spaniel, about 6 o'clock one morning last May. A short time later, the dog rushed back to the door.

"Something big had grabbed her shoulder," Swain said. "One fang went in on one side and clear across her shoulder on the other side was a long gash. It had ripped her wide open."

Swain said she and her son, Clay, 26, measured paw prints five inches wide that they found in her garden the next day.

She said she also saw signs of a large animal around her barn.

Klein said she fears that the animal that mauled her colt escaped from an unlicensed keeper or was purposely released by an irresponsible owner.

"I think someone raised it from a baby and it has no clue how to hunt," Klein said. "It feels comfortable in the barn with the scent of humans and it attacked easy prey in the daytime."

Dulin said DNR investigators were checking holders of wild animal permits in Boone and Hendricks counties.

The division of fish and wildlife lists 86 current permits issued to owners of wild animals in Indiana, according to Jon Marshall, natural science manager for the division.

No permits on the current list were issued to Boone County owners and active permits in Hendricks County are for raccoons and skunks.

"Somebody who has a cougar as a pet should have a permit from us," Marshall said.

Klein said she worries that the big cat will come back.

"We think it has been in there (the barn) twice," she said.

In June, the Kleins noticed minor cuts on Winston's rump. At the time, they thought his mother was nipping him.

Crane said, "We're just thankful it was a horse that was attacked and not a child."

Peercy said, "If it attacked a 500-pound colt, he'd attack about anything."

Contact Diane Frederick at 1-317-816-4424 or via e-mail at diane.frederick@indystar.com >
 


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