Joined: 17 Feb 2007
|Posted: Mon Nov 17, 2008 12:12 am Post subject: 10-2008 Multiple Horses attacked in Jackson County, Michigan
|If it wasn't a cougar, what the heck was it?
900-pound horse mauling a mystery
BY MIKE WENDLAND • FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER • October 6, 2008
It's a wildlife whodunit.
Is there a wild cougar roaming rural Jackson County, attacking livestock and spooking residents? Or is it just imaginations running wild?
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources insists it was not a cougar that recently mauled a 900-pound horse in Rives Township near Jackson.
But the veterinarian who saved the horse's life, the owner of the stables where he was boarded and the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy say they're certain the predator was a cougar, also known as a North American mountain lion.
The attack has added fuel to a long-running debate between the state, which says the last known wild cougar was seen in the state in 1906, and naturalists who say that cougars appear to have established a small but wide-ranging population in Michigan again.
As proof, they point to hundreds of sightings from almost every county and both peninsulas in recent years. Now they're tracking reports on Web sites complete with videos of large cats that certainly look like cougars. So convinced is the National Park Service that they posted warning signs at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore after a volunteer said she was stalked by a big cat.
In Jackson County, the mauled horse survived, but the Sept. 16 incident follows by three years the killing of another horse in a nearby township.
DNR spokeswoman Mary Detloff said DNR biologists and cougar experts analyzed photos of the injured horse. "We do not believe this was a cougar attack," she said. "We don't know what it is from."
The Jackson County veterinarian who treated the animal disagrees.
"Those are large claw wounds and obviously feline in nature and done by a very large cat -- certainly not a house cat and much larger than a bobcat," said Dr. Robert Sray. "I am certain, based on 40 years of treating animals, that this was done by a cougar."
Pat Rusz, director of wildlife programs for the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy, contends the DNR has long been stonewalling on the existence of cougars in Michigan.
"There is no doubt this was done by a cougar who jumped on the animal's back and sliced it open on the side," Rusz said. "We have a small but viable breeding population of cougars in Michigan."
Officially, the DNR concedes there may be cougars in Michigan, but suggests they are escaped or released pets or transient cougars from the nearest known breeding populations in North and South Dakota.
In the Jackson attack, the 10-year-old mare, Daydream, required 30 stitches to close a slashing wound.
The attack happened between sunrise and noon when the animal was pastured with about 10 other horses. DNR field representatives took photos and measurements and looked in vain for tracks.
"It appears the cougar came out from the woods and attacked when the horses were by the property line," Rusz said.
John Darlington of Lansing said he believes his horse, a 20-year-old mare, Shawna, also was swiped by the cougar. "She's pretty feisty and I think the cat scratched her when she came over to Daydream," he said, showing a fresh scratch across the horse's right side.
In September 2005, a 1,200-pound horse was killed in nearby Parma Township. Township Supervisor Wendy Chamberlain and the conservancy have said that killing was the result of a cougar attack. The DNR said it couldn't determine what killed the horse.
"I have personally seen cougars three times around here over the past few years," Chamberlain said.
Jackson County isn't the only place where sightings have been reported in recent days.
The Save the Cougar site (www.savethecougar.org) lists nine reported sightings this month, in Jackson, Muskegon, Kalamazoo, Manistee, Mackinac, Hillsdale, Oscoda and Arenac.
Another site, Michigan Cougar (www.michigancougar.com/sightings.htm), chronicles hundreds of reported sightings in all 83 Michigan counties.
On the site is a photo of what is believed to be a cougar track found in June at Oakland County's Bald Mountain.
Other local sightings include what appeared to be a pair of large cats in Auburn Hills in March and a cat estimated to weigh around 60 pounds outside Kensington Metro Park near Milford.
But the most dramatic evidence is video purportedly taken in April near Mason in Ingham County. The video (http://www.michigancougar.com/CountySightings/ingham.htm) shows what appears to be a very large cat at the edge of an open field. The cat left prints that measured more than 3 1/2 inches across, the site says.
Still, sightings are anecdotal and lacking in hard evidence.
After Sleeping Bear Dunes volunteer Eleanor Comings reported being stalked for 20 minutes in 2003, the National Park Service spent months driving hundreds of miles of park roads and trails looking for proof of big cats.
Motion-detecting field cameras captured the images of 22 bobcats, 300 coyotes and 40 red fox, as well as striped skunk, river otter, mink and weasel, but no cougars.
Indisputable scientific evidence is scarce ... making the Michigan cougar truly a UFO -- or Unidentified Furry Creature.
MIKE WENDLAND is the Free Press video and technology columnist. See his video of the Jackson County horse mauling at www.freep.com.