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Officer Forced to Shoot Stalking Mountain Lion

Officer Forced to Shoot Stalking Mountain Lion

Nebraska Game and Parks Wildlife biologist Nic Fryda, left and Conservation Officer Dale Johnson and Kearney Police officer Brian Thome carry away the dead mountain lion. [AP | World-Herald News Service]

Omaha World-Herald via YellowBrix

May 11, 2011

KEARNEY, NE – Jolissa May-Werner is a self-described animal lover.

Of the eight officers on her day shift at the Kearney Police Department, she’s one of the few who doesn’t hunt.

But that didn’t stop May-Werner, 39, from bagging her first big game — a young male mountain lion prowling well inside a southwest Kearney neighborhood Monday morning.

“I did not want to have to kill this thing,” she said about an hour after felling the animal with a single rifle shot to the side of the head.

Nick Fryda, a wildlife biologist with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, said Kearney officers were “well within our protocol” to kill the mountain lion because of the safety issues. Monday’s incident was the first confirmed mountain lion in Kearney, Fryda said.

“We’ve actually had multiple reports over the years of mountain lion sightings,” he said.

Mountain lions are a protected species in Nebraska unless they are in the act of stalking, killing or consuming livestock, or are determined to be a threat to human safety.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission said the 118-pound cat was the 48th confirmed mountain lion sighting in Nebraska, outside the Pine Ridge, since 1991.

Authorities said the carcass of another lion was discovered on a Platte River island near Yutan, just outside Omaha’s western edge, less than two weeks ago. The gender of that cat is unknown due to the amount of decomposition, the commission said.

The Kearney incident came just months after close calls about 300 miles northwest or west of Kearney.

In September 2010, Game and Parks officials shot a young male cougar near Hemmingford after it perched in a Chinese elm tree near a farmhouse.

Days later, a Dawes County woman shot and killed a mountain lion who was watching her free a goat stuck in a fence.

In mid-October, north of Scottsbluff, Game and Parks officials killed a 67-pound female cougar that was near a group of children.

Mountain lions find plenty of wild turkey and deer to feed on as they pass through portions of the state. The mountain lions sighted in central Nebraska may originate in South Dakota and the Pine Ridge area of northwest Nebraska.

Fryda said the single males must move out on their own.

“Their main diet is deer, and there are plenty of deer,” Fryda said. “There’s plenty of game around.”

Almost exactly one year ago, officials with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources investigated reports that a cougar attacked a quarter horse mare west of Sidney, Iowa. Other reports of alleged cougar attacks on livestock surface from time to time.

In Kearney on Monday, the first report of mountain lion came in just eight minutes before 7 a.m. Within about 25 minutes, the animal was dead.

Neighbors watched as police searched for the young male lion.

Sky Oldham, who lives across the street and just north of the yard where the mountain lion was killed, saw the lion on her yard’s chain link fence just after 7 a.m. She said the family dog Max, a bloodhound, was barking at the big cat on the fence, which jumped off and ran.

Her mother hadn’t been so sure about her daughter’s report. “I just thought she was exaggerating, that it was a raccoon or something,” Candi Oldham said. “I came outside and the cop said, ‘There’s a mountain lion on the loose.’”

But as the cat saw officers, it darted between homes and scaled fences. Officers eventually cornered the cat in the back yard of a nearby house.

That’s where May-Werner encountered it.

As the cat slowly came around the back corner of the house, May-Werner saw its head and right paw. Another officer radioed to May-Werner that the cat was coming directly toward her.

“All I saw was a head peeking at me. His head was about this big,” May-Werner said, holding her hands up in front of her to the size of a volleyball. “If you’ve seen a cat stalk something, he was in stalking mode. There was no doubt he saw me.”

May-Werner hit the lion from a distance of roughly 40 feet. The incident was over by 7:15 a.m.

So why was a mountain lion so far into town? The first reports of sightings were about four to six blocks from a nearby elementary school.

“I think he got into town and just couldn’t get out,” Fryda said. “Almost every yard has a fence. He’d jump one fence, and there would be another.”

He noted that the mountain lion was moving to the west, toward the edge of town, when it was killed.

Fryda understands the concern, but he said the incident was uncommon.

“This is rare,” he said. “People don’t need to be afraid of it (a mountain lion). If you do come across one, don’t corner it. Stay away from it. Most of the time, they will run away.”

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