Archive for Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Cougar sightings spread to Alvamar

February 25, 2004


Sightings of a mountain lion have spread from Kansas University's west campus into the Alvamar development in western Lawrence.

A woman and her daughter reported separate sightings this month of mountain lions, a species state wildlife officials are hesitant to admit exists anywhere in Kansas.

Marlene Penny thinks she even heard the mountain lion about 4:30 a.m. Tuesday near her home in the Alvamar neighborhood.

"Something woke us up," she said. "We thought it was probably the big cat. It sounded like something between a screech and howl. There is a big animal out here."

Penny said Tuesday that she and her daughter, Sarah, each had encounters with a mountain lion, earlier this month in the Alvamar development.

Both sightings were about a mile west of where people have reported seeing a mountain lion roaming since August 2003 on KU's west campus.

Penny said she saw a cougar early Feb. 4 when she went to baby-sit while her daughter went to Lawrence Memorial Hospital to give birth.

Penny saw the animal about 3 a.m. on Nicklaus Drive, just as she was turning east from Inverness Drive.

"I had to stop because there was this really big animal in front of me," Penny said Tuesday. "I stopped, and it turned and looked at me. It was this huge cat face. It turned and ran across the median, heading north. It had a really long tail. I was like, 'Oh my gosh, that's a lion.'"

Penny and her husband, Bill, went back to the area a few hours later and saw big cat tracks in the snow.

In the excitement of a new baby in the family, Penny call the city's animal control department until the next day.

Penny said another daughter, Sarah Penny, who lives in Washington, D.C., advised her not to talk too much about it. However, when Sarah came back to visit, she had her own encounter.

As Sarah Penny was driving to an early church service, about 8 a.m. Feb. 15 on Quail Creek Drive, she saw a mountain lion running near the 18th tee on the Alvamar public golf course and go into the brush by the creek.

State wildlife officials have not ruled out that the cats exist in Kansas, but in a legislative hearing last month in Topeka, research biologist Matt Peek said Kansas Wildlife and Parks officials essentially would have to see a wild cougar in Kansas before stating the animals had returned to the state.

Peek's boss, Wildlife and Parks Secretary Mike Hayden, sees the mountain lion debate a bit differently.

"The question, really, in Lawrence is not whether somebody saw a mountain lion; it's, 'Was it a wild mountain lion or was it one that got loose or was turned loose by its owners?'" Hayden, a former governor who now lives in Lawrence, told a University Forum audience last month.

After her encounter with a cat, Marlene Penny is a believer.

"It is a unique experience when you see it," she said.

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