Indiana: Search continues for escaped cougar

By Laura Followell
The Tribune-Star
Published: January 11, 2007 11:44 pm

Center Point— A lonely cougar named Boomer rested atop a tall, wooden climbing tower in its cage while its sister, Donner, remained missing as of late Thursday. The female cougar escaped Jan. 5 in Clay County.

The 70- to 80-pound wild cougar escaped from a specially constructed cage that served as her home at the Exotic Feline Rescue Center near Center Point on Ashboro Road.

Search and trapping efforts have been under way all week by Indiana Conservation officers, Clay County sheriff’s deputies and a professional trapper hired by the Department of Natural Resources.

Owner of the center, Joe Taft, said Thursday that the cougar may still be on his property; fresh tracks were discovered on his land Wednesday.

Trapping devices consist of spring-loaded, offset, leg-hole traps placed on the ground. The trap is circular with a small triggering device in its center.

“It goes whop,” Taft explained. “It doesn’t have big steel teeth like you see in cartoons. It’s flat across.”

The trap would not crush the cougar’s leg, Taft said, but it would hold its leg inflicting a minimal amount of damage. The traps are baited with scent made from cougar anal glands, and then covered with dirt and sticks. Traps are chained to a solid object.

Taft said he believes the wild-born animal won’t approach people because of her temperament.

“She hides in the back of the cage every day when she was fed,” Taft said, “until everybody left; then she takes the food.”

The 7-year-old animal arrived at the center over six years ago after its mother was killed by poachers, he said, and has lived with its brother the whole time.

The rescue center opened in 1991 and is caring for 196 cats, without Donner — 195 cats, on 108 acres of land with 30 acres of enclosures.

The cougar was housed in a specially constructed cage with a recurve at the top. The cage is about 70 by 80 feet in length/width, 14 feet high and has slender, tall trees inside, and vegetation.

“We just don’t see her exit route,” Taft said. “We’ve been around this cage thoroughly. This is probably my worst nightmare.

“She doesn’t pose a substantial risk,” he added. “She’s going to run and hide from people. She could spend the rest of her life in the woods.”

Taft estimated that the cougar could spend up to five years in the wild.

“As long as she’s out there, we won’t stop trying to find her,” Taft said.

In captivity, Donner was fed deer meat, chicken, rabbits, beef and horse meat once a day, six days a week.

Taft said people are the biggest threat to Donner. He said he fears people will track Donner down and shoot the animal, though he hopes to find the cougar.

“She’s pretty savvy,” he said. “… Cougars go up trees, and if she was easy to find, we would have found her.

“She’s spent her whole life with her brother,” Taft said, “and we don’t think she’s going to go far without him.”

Indiana Conservation Officer Max Winchell said officers will continue patrolling the area.

“I think the trapping still remains the best option,” Winchell said, “as long as it decides not to leave the area.

“Be on the lookout for it — use common sense,” he said.

Winchell urges anyone who sees the cougar to call local law enforcement.

Laura Followell can be reached at (812) 231-4253 or laura.followell@tribstar.com.

http://www.tribstar.com/local/local_story_011234402.html

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