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Cougar sightings raise concerns in York County
York County has had numerous mountain lion sightings reported the last few weeks. The influx in sightings over the past few years has sparked concern from the city's Mayor and residents.
News Five's Amy West reports how cougars roamed the land 100 years ago, and are now coming home.
"We were right over there and saw him."
York County Sheriff Dale Radcliff says there's absolutely no doubt what he saw.
"When it got on the pavement we both said, my wife and I, that's a mountain lion," said Radcliff.
A cougar, also called mountain lions or pumas, just two blocks away from the York middle school.
"It didn't run into the cornfield as it turned away from us. As my wife said, look how gracefully that cat walked into that cornfield, just walked nonchalant, just looking at us," said Radcliff.
About a week later, another sighting, this time near the York Family Aquatic Center.
And just Sunday night, an employee at Champions Coop saw one come out from underneath a mobile home and run into this cornfield.
So far this year, nearly a dozen cougar sightings have been reported in York County. And for local law enforcement, they're coming a little too close for comfort.
"I think eventually we're going to have to do something. Probably get it trapped, tranquilized and move it out or we might have to destroy it," said Radcliff.
Just last year, this mountain lion was killed when spotted roaming through a Kearney neighborhood.
And as the cougar population becomes more prevalent the Midwest we could see more contact with communities.
"Mountain lions were wiped out by settlers but the habitat has always been good for mountain lions," Sam Wilson said.
Sam Wilson from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission says Nebraska's only permanent cougar population lives in the Pine Ridge area. However, dispersing males search for food and mates across the state.
But, in an area unfamiliar with the animal, imaginations wander and rumors fly.
"We hear rumors often of black mountain lions. The scientific name for a mountain lion is actually puma concolor which means cat of one color. There are no black faces of mountain lions," said Wilson.
Also, contrary to popular belief, cougars don't drag their prey up into trees.
"African leopards do this and people will see it on television and so they know that some cats do that. But they don't," Wilson said.
Wilson says very few reports of mountain lions are actually confirmed.
In fact, one York County report this month turned out to be a dead dog.
"People see something in low light or while driving, they're not familiar with looking at mountain lions and so people can mistake something - it's an honest mistake that happens," said Wilson.
To confirm a sighting, the game and parks commission looks at teeth marks and footprints.
They also use hunting cameras to catch snapshots of the cats.
But even if your sighting isn't officially confirmed, that doesn't mean you didn't see what you saw.
"People could certainly see mountain lions run across a gravel road, for instance, and when you go to look for tracks on a gravel road you just see that circle indent and you can't tell which animal left it," said Wilson.
If you do find yourself face to face with the feline, the Game and Parks Commission has a few suggestions.
Raise your arms and backpack or purse above your head to appear larger. Most likely, the puma will move on.
But if you find yourself under attack, fight back. Use rocks and anything you can get your hands on.
One thing's for sure. York residents who have seen the cat, won't soon forget it.
"Lifetime experience, I think, being that close to one," said Radcliff.
Wilson says the Game and Parks Commission has just completed its second genetic survey of mountain lions in the Pine Ridge population, and depending on the results a cougar hunting season may be something Nebraskans see in the future.
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