Monday, December 12, 2005

The Cat Stories Continue…

This weekend I received the following e-mail from someone who must have read Wednesday’s blog:

Ami, FYI regarding the cougars in Michigan. Shame on you for ridiculing the people who are trying to educate others about the cougar's return to the Midwest. Upon doing your homework you would have learned that cougars have been in that area for about 1 year.

The reason why we know the horse was attacked by a cougar is because we have tested the DNA and scats left remaining. (In case you do not know "scats" are feces) The DNA is unmistakably that of a cougar, which by the way is also known as a "mountain lion", depending on what part of the country you are in.

There are a group of people who do not want to admit that the animals have existed in the area. I imagine it would be a little embarrassing to those who "manage wildlife" to be told that cougars do exist in the area, when they previously belittled the people who had Class 1 evidence.

The groups who have informed people that the cougars are here, are the people who are attempting to educate you and others about the return of these cougars for one reason - to protect them. You may not know that they are an endangered species. This is very exciting to those of us who would love to see the population continue to increase.

In the early to mid-1800s there were very large populations of cougars throughout the Midwest including Indiana. (Technically Michigan is not considered "the Midwest", but the cougar population was very large in both Indiana and Michigan.) It was not uncommon at all for people to see cougars running around in Indiana and Michigan during that time. The only reason the cougars have had to make a come back is because people hunted them nearly to extinction.

When you read stories about the cougars, they are not hype. The only person who is exaggerating the news about the cougars is you...they are not 9 feet long and 200 pounds. They are about 90 pounds, and smaller than a deer. So be on the side of the animals, and not on the side of the people who will either deny that they are back, or panic and want to grab their guns and start shooting them again.

Just an FYI, thanks and have a good weekend.

I don’t allow comments to be posted on this blog because when I allowed them on another blog, I got so much spam that it was a constant struggle to keep the page “clean.” So I appreciate anyone who takes the time to e-mail me. Even if they tell me that I’m wrong (always difficult to take) and exaggerating (not something I’m often accused of).

And so, here are a few words to my e-mailer, and an update of the Big Cat Story:

I re-read Wednesday’s post, and feel compelled to say that the only people who can justly feel “ridiculed” by it are certain members of the media. I maintain that the news stories I read were poorly written and designed for sensationalism. Regardless of whether or not a cougar, tiger, bear, wolverine or goldfish was responsible for the attack, I still think that leading with the voice of speculation, and ending with a “definite” quote was poor journalism.

None of the news stories I’ve read, heard or seen (see below) have ever mentioned DNA or scat as conclusive evidence of a cougar attack. Instead, they all cite Patrick Rusz, of the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy, who examined the horse’s exhumed body a few days ago. By all accounts, Dr. Rusz’ verdict was made based upon visible evidence only.

According to the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy 7 counties have had verifiable cougar DNA found in scat. All counties are in the northern portions of the state. Any other “Class 1 evidence” is not mentioned on their website, or on any other reputable source that I could find online or in print.

Furthermore, I took the 200 lb., 9 foot long dimensions from information provided and published by the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy itself. A pamphlet titled “Living With Cougars in Michigan” states, among other things, that the animals range in size from 80 to 200 pounds, and measure from 7 to 9 feet from nose to tail tip.

Interesting goings-on in this corner of the country, that’s for sure. Regardless of what got the horse, I’m bringing my boys in at night…

Here’s what the Dec. 10: Kalamazoo Gazette had to say:

Investigators in Berrien County Friday slogged through snowdrifts to dig up a two-week-old grave, heaved the 1,000-pound carcass onto a flatbed truck, and then spent three and a half hours meticulously documenting the ragged and bloody punctures and tears that ravaged the body -- all to learn what killed Bingo, a 20-year-old horse.

What prompted these extraordinary measures?

A hope that careful analysis of Bingo's death in a rural Berrien County pasture might shed light on a mystery that continues to dog wildlife scientists.

Do cougars still exist in Michigan? And if they do, are they part of a growing population?

Or did Bingo fall victim to the commonplace coyote or wild dog?

The wounded horse was discovered early in the morning of Nov. 25 when it broke through an electric fence and went up to a house, said Valarie Grimes, animal control director for Berrien County. People were awakened by the ruckus and called a veterinarian, who determined quickly that the horse should be euthanized, she said.

Patrick Rusz, who works with the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy examined the animal at the invitation of the Berrien County Sheriff's and Animal Control departments.

``It definitely was attacked by a large cat, almost assuredly a cougar. I'm 100 percent sure,'' said Rusz, who holds a doctorate in wildlife ecology.

But Michigan Department of Natural Resources biologists are still not so sure.

Although they were not invited to or notified of Friday's examination, Steve Chadwick, DNR wildlife biologist at Crane Pond State Game Area, reviewed Friday the report of a conservation officer and photos of the attack. He remained unconvinced.

``From the photos, it just does not suggest a cougar to me. I agree with (the conservation officer),'' he said, that it was likely coyotes or dogs that killed the horse.

Chadwick said he has talked to hunters who are out tracking coyotes several times a week, ``and they have yet to cut a cougar track.''

He has also visited cougars in captivity to collect samples of droppings and to make castings of their prints for comparison in the event reports come in.

``I've looked at several suspicious tracks, and most have been dogs. ... It's not like we're not looking,'' Chadwick said. ``We're just not finding the evidence.''

The damage to Bingo's face and body were enough to make believers out of Grimes and Mark Johnson, the veterinarian who put the horse out of his misery and assisted with Friday's investigation.

Grime said she wants the public to be aware of the possibility of predator attacks on livestock. Johnson said that while he is convinced that a cat was responsible for the horse's death, he's not so sure that means people should change their behavior.

``It's important for veterinarians in the area to have this understanding, and by documenting what this was it may be helpful to others in other parts of the state or country to know what they might be dealing with.

``But (this particular cat) may have taken quite a beating in this failed attack,'' Johnson said. ``There's an old saying: `A cat only walks across a hot stove once.' These are intelligent animals.

``You'd think it would (from now on) take on mice or rabbits, better than trying to take on a 1,000-pound horse.''

I know Dr. Johnson. He’s a very good, very reputable vet in the area.

This is from the South Bend Tribune:

A wildlife expert says a mountain lion is responsible for attacking a horse last week on a Berrien County farm.

Friday, animal control officers dug up the 19-year-old horse, named Bingo. A wildlife expert then performed an autopsy, and found eight wounds about an inch and three quarters deep -- the typical length of a cougar fang.

Dr. Pat Rusz of the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy says claw marks were all over the horse’s shoulders and face.

“It appears to be clawed in the face, prominent bite marks from an animal with quite a lot of crushing power,” Rusz told NEWS22. “Not the nips you’d expect with a coyote for example.”

Rusz says this case adds to his research that Michigan does have a cougar population and that people need to be aware. But he says there is no reason for people living in the area to panic.

“Even livestock owners,” he said. “The repeat attacks by the same cat is very, very small.”

Experts say never approach a cougar. If you encounter one, don’t run away. Instead, stand tall, open your jacket and flap it about. You should also yell and throw stones or rocks to show the cat you are in control.

Further bulletins as events warrant…