Sunday, January 29, 2006

Mountain lions in MI ?

Mountain lions among us?


January 29. 2006 6:59AM


Many residents claim they've seen cougars




Tribune Staff Writer


No, there are no mountains in southwestern Michigan, or northern Indiana, for that matter.


But that doesn't necessarily mean there are no mountain lions.


Area residents who turned out last week for a meeting in Berrien Springs regarding the possibility of cougars, or mountain lions, in southwestern Michigan perhaps left with the impression there are more than just house cats in the area.


Even the skeptical Dave Bostick, a wildlife biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, agreed at the meeting that Michigan has cougars.



But he qualified his statement, arguing there aren't many, and that the ones that are here may have been released by private owners instead of having been bred in the wild.


Bostick disagreed that the horse mauled in November in the Hagar Shores area, near Watervliet in northern Berrien County, was the victim of a cougar as the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy has claimed. The horse's injuries were so severe it had to be destroyed.


"My best guess is that was the result of one or more very large dogs,'' Bostick said.


But Berrien County Animal Control Manager Val Grimes and Baroda veterinarian Mark Johnson took a different view. Johnson, who examined the horse's corpse, said he had no doubt "a large cat'' was responsible, and Grimes said the horse's clawed-away face was proof to her that neither dogs nor coyotes were responsible.


Grimes also said a Bridgman couple who reported seeing a cougar last weekend near Warren Dunes State Park were very credible. The animal's tracks helped convince Grimes a cougar had left them, she said.


The tracks were perhaps made by the same animal Bridgman resident Alan Zilke said he had tracked about a month earlier. The 74-year-old Zilke said Friday he's familiar with cougar tracks, having observed them while hunting deer in Colorado.


He said the tracks he observed in Bridgman followed the same pattern.


"There's no doubt in my mind ... it's a big cat,'' he said.


Zilke said he and Rev. Russell Panico, a Three Oaks minister who claimed at last week's meeting to have observed a black panther on his property in April 2005, followed in the snow the tracks of the alleged Bridgman cat. He said the tracks wound through the Warren Dunes Estates Mobile Home Park on Red Arrow Highway.


"The tracks started near the Dumpster behind Classic Caterers. That's what he'd been interested in,'' Zilke said. "We tracked it a half mile, around the inside of the trailer park and out the front of it, to Red Arrow Highway.''


Zilke said the tracks were only a short distance from the pond where the Bridgman couple had reportedly observed a cougar taking a drink last weekend.


Such sightings are no surprise to Niles area resident Larry Bradley. The Tribune security guard said he was driving home on Redfield Road, between Gumwood and Ironwood, shortly before Christmas when a cougar "streaked in front of me.''


He said it wasn't just the cougar's appearance that startled him.


"He touched the road one time, in the middle. That's a 20-foot jump,'' he said.


Others like Frank Malewitz have argued cougars are not a new phenomenon in the area. The 77-year-old Malewitz, a resident of Traverse City, Mich., said he lived in South Bend in the early 1970s and was driving home with his wife about midnight on U.S. 12 near Edwardsburg when the couple encountered a family of cougars.


"It was a big cat, followed by two cubs. I had to brake for them,'' he said. "It wasn't a dog, it wasn't a deer ... Those were cats, there was no mistaking them.''


Told that the DNR has taken the position that Michigan has no breeding population of cougars, Malewitz had a one-word response.


"Baloney,'' he said.


Staff writer Lou Mumford:

(269) 687-7002


For the cats,


Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue

an Educational Sanctuary home

to more than 150 big cats

12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL  33625

813.920.4130 fax 885.4457 cell 493.4564


Meet our recent mountain lion cub rescues:


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