Isle of Wight man claims he caught a cougar on camera
ISLE OF WIGHT — Charlie Wooten has been a hunter since 1976 and has seen
more than his fair share of wild animals.
His four trail cameras usually catch the occasional black bear roaming
around between May and September, but when one of his cameras snapped a photo
of an apparent cougar on his property in the Isle of Wight Courthouse area,
he wasn't sure what he saw.
"I'm no expert," he said, "but it doesn't look like a bobcat to me."
Wooten, who primarily hunts white-tailed deer and turkeys, showed the
photo to 20 fellow hunters, and "19 of them said it wasn't a bobcat," he said.
Wooten's big cat photo awaits confirmation, but similar sightings in South
Hampton Roads aren't without precedent.
Aaron Proctor, a district wildlife biologist for the Virginia Department
of Game and Inland Fisheries, said the department is working to verify
Wooten's reported cougar sighting. Proctor said the department gets about six
12 big cat sightings on the Southside a year.
The department allowed big cats to be pets 15 to 20 years ago, Proctor
said, but has since no longer does.
While the sight of a big cat might be rare in the state, the growing
population of black bears is coinciding with sightings that are becoming the
norm in many regions during the spring and summer months.
With an increasing number of bears in Virginia, the potential for
bear-human encounters is greater.
Wooten's cameras in rural Isle of Wight catch two types of bears every two
to three days. His cameras are within a 3- to 4-mile range of his
property, "but I've never laid eyes on one," he said.
Coming out of their winter hibernation, bears leave their dens at all
times of the day, primarily looking for food.
Bears generally avoid humans, but they might wander into suburban areas in
their search for sustenance.
Luckily for us humans, bear attacks are extremely rare.
You can help prevent a bear from wandering onto your property by securing
your garbage, picking up and disposing of any pet food or raw food,
removing bird feeders and cleaning outdoor grills.
If you see a wild animal on your property:
• Do not feed it; it is unsafe and illegal.
• Keep a safe, respectful distance from the animal.
• Call a regional game office at 804-367-1000 or your local law
enforcement about the sighting.
Which kind of wild cat is it?
Some of the differences between cougars and bobcats:
• The total length of this species, from head to the tip of its tail, is
5-9 feet and it weighs 100-200 pounds.
• They are dark reddish or yellowish-brown with a dark-tipped tail. The
fur is short, soft and unspotted.
• Since 1970, 121 sightings have been identified as possible mountain
lions, but have not been officially confirmed. Most sightings occur in
Shenandoah National Park and in the Bedford, Amherst and Nelson counties
• This is a medium-sized cat with a total length of 24-40 inches and a
weight of 10-25 pounds.
• They have a very short tail, relatively long legs and rather long, loose
fur with longer cheek fur forming sideburns.
• They have a swift, distinctive bounding walk and are very secretive.
Source: Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
_By Eric Gillard_ (mailto:egillard@…)
May 14, 2009
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