Stories of cougar sightings in Douglas County have circulated for about 15 years, and Edwin Smith hopes to find proof that the big cats are making their homes in the area.
"Over the last year, I talked to at least 30 people who thought they saw cougars," said the Baldwin man. "The type of critter to look for is a large, usually tan-colored cat with a long tail, about 70 to 200 pounds on average."
Cougars, also known as mountain lions and pumas, have been spotted throughout the county, he said. For example, a woman reported seeing three tan pumas near Stull in 1987, a group reportedly saw two black panthers in the southeast part of the county in 1989 and at least two reports have come in of cougars just outside the Lawrence city limits.
Smith designed a series of charts and diagrams and worked with George Frazier, a Kansas University student, to develop a questionnaire to help people describe characteristics of the animal they saw.
Through the data he's collected, Smith guesses that about six adult cougars live in Douglas County. South of Baldwin, people have reported hearing a "screeching tires" sound, which could be cougars communicating, he said.
Smith warned that killing cougars is prohibited unless the cat appears ready to attack. He said people who encounter a cougar at close range should stand up tall, wave their arms, yell and attempt to scare it away. Never turn and run, which could trigger an attack, he said.
Anyone with information about a recent cougar sighting, particularly in the southern part of the county, can call Smith in Baldwin at 594-3960. He also is looking for a few cougar enthusiasts willing to help interview people who report seeing the big cats.
Smith said people also can call Frazier, 749-3602 or Cindy Jones, a friend of Smith's, at 594-6617.