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Archive for Thursday, November 23, 2000

Unconfirmed cougar sightings continue

November 23, 2000

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Wildlife officials insist big cats do not prowl in Kansas.

But try telling that to Mary Ellen Diederich.

"Its back looked different. You could see its bones moving up on the top of its back. I thought, 'What in the world is that?'"

Mary Ellen Diederich, Washington County resident

"I am so positive of what I saw that I would be very hard to talk out of it," Diederich said.

Diederich, of Washington County, in north-central Kansas, said she encountered a mountain lion near her home almost three years ago.

But wildlife officials are skeptical that wild mountain lions, also called cougars, exist in Kansas.

Kansas Wildlife and Parks law enforcement officer Rob Ladner said there has never been a confirmation of a mountain lion in Kansas in modern times. There have been no photos, no footprints, no animal carcasses and no attacks on people, Ladner said.

But there have been plenty of reports.

"We get calls weekly, daily, all the time," Ladner said.

Diederich saw what she initially thought was a dog along the highway.

"Its back looked different," Diederich said. "You could see its bones moving up on the top of its back. I thought, 'What in the world is that?'"

Diederich hit the cat with the left wheel of her vehicle, and she thought the animal was dead.

She knew mountain lions supposedly didn't exist in Kansas, but she was sure the animal was a cougar. She had seen bobcats before and knew with its long tail it couldn't be a bobcat. She was sure it wasn't a dog.

"My first thought was, OK, here's our proof."

Diederich decided she would heist the cat into her car trunk. But when she turned around to get her proof, it was gone, she said.

"When people say it's not true I definitely know what I saw," Diederich said. "Some people think, OK, they're just seeing things. There was one sighting, and people were scoffing at it. But there are so many people that have seen them, that I don't know how they can deny it."

Larry Morgan, also of Washington County, was in his pasture counting calves when he said he encountered a cougar.

He saw five does bounding towards him and then an animal chasing it.

"It jumped the fence just slicker than a whistle. I thought, 'Woo! I'm seeing things,'" he said.

Morgan, too, was sure it wasn't a bobcat or a dog. The way that it leapt, it had to have been a mountain lion.

"I didn't report it because I didn't think it would do any good," Morgan said. "I'd read too many reports that said we just don't have them. And I didn't want to be a liar."

Ladner said his department doesn't deny the possibility of mountain lions in Kansas. Cougars feed on deer. And Kansas has plenty of deer, he said.

If people have seen them, he said, they probably were lions that had escaped captivity. Wild mountain lions in Kansas would probably have to come from Colorado or other mountain states.

Cougars in Kansas are about as unlikely as they are in Nebraska. But after several reported sightings in St. Paul, Neb., a male mountain lion was shot Wednesday near the high school.

Kansas University professor of biology, Ray Pierotti, said he was sure cougars exist in Kansas, Nebraska, and just about every other state. He said a few of his colleagues and students had reported seeing the animals.

Pierotti said the cats travel to Kansas through river valleys and keep to wooded areas.

"They are all over the place in heavily wooded areas," Pierotti said. "There's probably more than people realize because they are good at not drawing attention to themselves."

Pierotti also said there have been sightings in Douglas County, though people have no reason to panic.

"People should view them as something special and not something to be afraid of," he said.

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