Cougar’s First Visit is his Last
PHOTO COURTESY OF NEBRASKA GAME AND PARKS COMMISSION
A male mountain lion peers down from a tree at the Wayne and Jane Schledewitz farm north of Hemingford, Neb., on Tuesday. Game and Parks biologists shot and killed the cougar because it could be a threat to people and livestock.
During the past twenty years, Nebraska had seen nineteen mountain lions wander into the state, most of which were found dead or killed shortly after being spotted. Yesterday marked the twentieth. A Nebraska woman stepped out of her farmhouse just after sunrise to feed her barn cats and take a morning walk with her dog, Griz — a large Alaskan malamute. The dog took off behind the barn chasing the cougar and minutes later had frightened it more than 75 feet up a giant elm tree on the property. The woman was startled by the encounter, guided by misinformation that the cougar would lose its fear of people and pose a safety risk, and so she concluded her only option was to have the cat killed. A biologist from the Nebraska Department of Game & Parks came out, took aim at the cat (which was still hiding in the elm tree), and shot perhaps the only cougar in the entire state. Mountain lions were native to Nebraska until residents had killed them all by the early 1900’s. Without accurate information about the species and tolerance for wildlife, mountain lions will never repopulate Nebraska. The farm owner did mention she wanted the cougar to return… only, stuffed, mounted, and on display at a local fur trade museum….Mountain Lion Foundation
Big, gentle Griz suddenly growled and darted away.
Moments later, the 2-year-old Alaskan malamute reappeared on the run from behind a few farm buildings — chasing a mountain lion.
“The cat was full leaped out. He was on a dead run with his tail out behind him. He looked huge,” said Jane Schledewitz.
“We were head-to-head. There was nothing between us but air.”
The cougar and Griz the dog zipped past Schledewitz and vanished around the corner of the farmhouse. She estimated the distance between herself and the cougar as twice the length of her living room.
That was the adrenaline-spiking start of 50-year-old Schledewitz’s day Tuesday, after she stepped out of her western Nebraska farmhouse near Hemingford at sunrise to feed two calico barn cats and take a two-mile walk with Griz.
About an hour later, she and her husband, Wayne Schledewitz, made a tough decision to have the cougar killed because of the threat it posed to people, pets and livestock.
The young male mountain lion fled up a towering Chinese elm tree near the farmhouse, which is about six miles north and one mile west of Hemingford. It was in the tree when Nebraska Game and Parks wildlife biologists from Alliance arrived an hour later after receiving a call from the Box Butte County Sheriff’s Office.
The lion was shot and fell about 25 yards from its perch.
Jane Schledewitz said she and her husband wish the cougar could have been spared, but there was no way to know if it was growing unafraid to wander through farmsteads.
“We have an old barn, and if we had come around there and surprised him inside, he could feel threatened and attack,” she said. “Our neighbors pasture cattle on grassland all around our place. I’m still shaking.”
Todd Nordeen, a Game and Parks wildlife biologist manager in the Panhandle, said authorities work with landowners to make a joint decision on how to handle cougar encounters. There have been no confirmed instances of a mountain lion killing livestock in Nebraska.
“If there’s any chance we think the best thing to do is to let it go, that’s what we do,” he said.
The mountain lion was the 112th confirmed observation in Nebraska since 1991. It was the 10th confirmation this year. Eighty of the confirmed sightings have occurred in the Pine Ridge area north of Hemingford.
Jane Schledewitz said her initial reaction was that it was a coyote or a bobcat. But when she focused on the face and tail — she screamed, hurried to a shed and pulled out her cell phone to call her husband.
“‘Big cat! Big cat!’ was about all I could say,” she said.
Wayne Schledewitz had just left the farmstead to harvest dry edible beans. He was skeptical, but returned and spotted the cougar hidden near the top of the fully-leafed tree.
Jane Schledewitz said the cougar’s paws were twice as large as those on Griz, who weighs 125 pounds. Nordeen said the cougar weighed about 100 pounds. The carcass will be sent to agency headquarters in Lincoln for study.
Jane Schledewitz said she hopes it becomes a display mount at the Museum of the Fur Trade in Chadron.
“I’d like it to come home.”
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