Indiana: Tracks show escaped cougar nearby

Prints in the snow confirm big cat hasn’t strayed far from feline rescue center

By Diana Penner
diana.penner@indystar.com
January 23, 2007

The weekend snowfall revealed fresh tracks Monday that prove Donner, the 75-pound cougar who escaped Jan. 5 from the Exotic Feline Rescue Center outside Terre Haute, is still near the refuge.

But searchers didn’t capture the elusive feline.

Joe Taft, executive director of the big cat sanctuary in Center Point, said he was glad to find the tracks, at least.

“We know where she was in the last 24 hours,” he said. “I always thought she was nearby, but without the fresh snow, it was more intuition and speculation on my part. The tracks are definitive proof.”

There also was frustration Monday. Taft and others had set out leg-hold traps that don’t cause injury, and Donner had clearly stepped on one. However, because of recent rains, wet dirt had fallen into the mechanism and frozen, preventing it from snaring the cat.

Still, Taft said that evidence and the fresh tracks give searchers good information on where to reset the traps and put out food to lure Donner.

Taft left half of a deer out several days ago and said he found much of it eaten the first day and the entire carcass moved the second day.

Taft said it’s doubtful coyotes got to the deer, based on his experience with how the two species eat and treat their food. Taft has not been putting out enough food to satisfy Donner completely, meaning she’d have to catch her own prey to fill up, but it has been enough to keep her nearby.

He suspects Donner doesn’t miss her confined area, even with its catered meals.

“I think she’s probably having a good time,” he said.

Meanwhile, her brother, Boomer, appears to have settled into a comfortable routine.

“He almost seems to be glad she’s gone,” Taft said.

There have been numerous reports of sightings of Donner far from the rescue center, including Lafayette and Nashville, Ind., but Taft said none have been verified. And he said the tracks found Monday prove the cat has not strayed from her familiar area.

Searchers were out during daylight hours with dogs but never saw Donner. That, Taft said, doesn’t mean much.

“If she sees you, she’ll hide,” he said. “You could walk within 10 feet of her and not see her.”

Call Star reporter Diana Penner at (317) 444-6249.

http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070123/ LOCAL/701230364/-1/ZONES04

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