A Kansas University biologist most noted for his study of monarch butterflies was tracking much bigger, but more elusive, game recently just west of Lawrence -- a mountain lion.
"It just crossed the road in front of me," said Orley "Chip" Taylor Jr., a KU professor of biology and evolutionary biology.
Taylor said he was driving the morning of Dec. 2 along Douglas County E 100 Road about 2.5 miles west of Clinton Lake, near some Wakarusa River bottoms, when he saw the beast.
"I only got a glimpse of it for about three to four seconds. It was a real short view," Taylor said.
"But it was bigger than my 85-pound golden retriever and smaller than a deer."
Taylor said he knew it couldn't be a deer because rather than a flashing white tail, it had a long tail.
"I never had any doubts about what it was," Taylor said. "I had just seen a mountain lion two days earlier up in a zoo in Minnesota. It looked like the same thing to me."
Taylor started the international Monarch Watch program in 1992, which now includes more than 100,000 people each year in 37 states and Canada who tag monarch butterflies as they make their annual migration south each year to central Mexico.
Taylor's sighting of a mountain lion was the first reported to the news media in the Lawrence area since the early part of 2004.
A Lawrence resident reported seeing one on the Alvamar Golf Course last February in west Lawrence. Another resident reported seeing one in March crossing Wakarusa Drive just north of West 15th Street.
In the fall of 2003, there were several reports of a mountain lion, also known as cougars or pumas, seen on KU's West Campus.
And a KU researcher captured a night photo with an automatic wildlife camera that showed what several experts thought was a mountain lion.
The researcher, Mark Jakubauskis, also gathered some droppings near where he took the photo that were analyzed and found to match the DNA of a mountain lion.
The spate of sightings led a Kansas Legislature committee to hold a hearing last January. But state wildlife officials have said there is not yet any evidence that wild mountain lions are re-establishing themselves in Kansas after more than a century.
The last known wild one was killed in 1904 in Ellis County.
No tracks found
Taylor said after he saw the mountain lion on Thursday in western Douglas County, he didn't have time to go back and check on it.
But on Friday Taylor went back out to the area with Deke Hobbick, the state's wildlife manager for the Clinton Lake area.
"We looked for an hour and couldn't find any physical evidence," Taylor said.
He explained the ground was frozen the morning he saw the mountain lion -- temperature in the low 20s -- so there were no tracks.
"All I could tell you is I had a glimpse and that's about it," Taylor said. "But there's no other evidence of one out there, as far as I know. But there's certainly lots of deer and there are lots of turkeys, and there's even other wildlife, so maybe it's well fed and just moving through the area."
Mike Hayden, secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, said earlier this year that rumors of wild mountain lion sighting go back 30 years and that sightings have been confirmed in all four states surrounding Kansas.
For that reason, Hayden said it was "only reasonable that they might pass through Kansas."