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Vernon Hill resident claims he’s captured elusive cats on camera

Are mountain lions, declared extinct in Virginia, making a comeback of sorts in Halifax County?

One Vernon Hill landowner has no doubts they are, and he claims he has captured two of the elusive cats chasing a smaller prey animal that appears to be an unlucky raccoon on a game camera video.

Since Aug. 7, 2009, Bob Crone claims there have been three separate instances of mountain lions or cougars crossing his Oak Level farm. The six-second video was taken Nov. 4 on his property with a game camera he has dubbed “Cougar Cam.”

Fearful that large dangerous cats may be roaming the woods of Halifax County, the avid outdoorsman and lifelong county hunter took his video to Halifax County Chief Animal Control Officer Todd Moser who recently viewed the low resolution video.

His response was “they are large cats with long tails, and they could possibly be cats of unknown origin.”

Moser, recognized last year as the “State Animal Control Officer of the Year” and a former law enforcement officer having 16 years experience with the South Boston Police Department and Halifax County Sheriff’s Office, said he worked with Crone to find someone to enhance the images on the video.

“Unfortunately the video, which was taken at night with infrared lighting, is only so good,” Crone admitted.

But to the trained eye and with repeated viewings, to Crone it becomes obvious that indeed there are two large cats with long tails, and the list of possibilities is quite short, he said.

“Todd stepped up to the plate and took charge in helping to try and confirm what was being seen on the video,” Crone said. “He did take this seriously and did not try to wave it off as some others have done. Bringing public awareness to the fact that large cats of unknown origin are indeed living among us here in Halifax and in the state would be at the top of our priorities list concerning wildlife in the commonwealth.”

Crone said he also has shared the video with Barbara J. Chaplin, executive director of CougarQuest-Virginia based in Winchester.

CougarQuest, a volunteer citizen science organization founded in 2005, acts as a sounding board for credible sightings and other evidence concerning cougars in the state and surrounding areas.

After viewing the game camera footage, Chaplin said she concluded, “The predators are large felines with long tails, and the physical characteristics are consistent with probable cougars.”

Although their sizes were not as big as would be expected with a full-grown adult cougar, Chaplin said they are too large to be bobcats or domestic cats.

“I believe it is possible that the video shows two juvenile cougars chasing their prey,” she added.

“This is the first time since we organized our group that we’ve had consistent answers,” Chaplin said of her colleagues who viewed the video.

According to Chaplin, her “big cat” contacts in Wyoming along with Eastern Puma Research Foundation and the Cougar Rewilding Foundation have determined the video to be that of two “definite” felines of undetermined or unknown species.

Crone maintains the video is clear enough to show two juvenile cougars chasing their prey, and he thinks it is a young mother cougar teaching her juvenile cub how to hunt.

“Whichever it is, it certainly appears to be two cougars with another animal,” he said.

Crone’s frame captures measurements from nose to tail base of a little over 47 inches; from underbelly to back, 13.72 inches; and from ground to back 28 to 30 inches.

Further reports are pending from reviewers, and the search for evidence and snow tracks will continue, Chaplin said.

“But it is apparent that two large felines with long tails, believed by many to be cougars, are making themselves comfortable under Bob’s protection on this property in Halifax County, Virginia,” Chaplin added.

This video is only the latest part of a cougar search Crone has been on since the evening of Aug. 7, 2009 when he walked out his front door and saw what he said was a full-grown cougar walking to his barn.

He estimated the cougar’s weight at around 125 pounds.

“I saw his muscles rippling through its shoulders as it walked,” a convinced Crone said. “Also noticed was the very long tail with the characteristic black tip at its curled end.”

After it entered the nearby woods, Crone said he could hear deer snorting and blowing at the intruder.

The next day while working on a muddy road about 300 or 400 yards from his house, Crone said he found a large number of animal tracks.

“Those who reviewed the tracks found several that were feline in nature and a couple that were big enough to have been made by the cougar the day before,” he said.

After this encounter with a big cat, Crone said things were quiet for about two years with no other reported sightings.

Then on Oct. 21 last year at around 8 p.m. Crone said he went on his back porch to get his dinner off the grill.

“That’s when nearby, as in 75 yards close, a cougar let out an extremely loud and convoluted scream. Not just once, but two times in about 12 seconds,” he said.

“There was no doubt as to what made that scream. Apparently the big cat felt his territory had been invaded,” Crone surmised.

Other odd occurrences between Dec. 1 and 15 lead the Oak Level landowner to believe he has feline visitors joining coyotes and other predators on his property.

One of six pet geese disappeared with no carcass ever found, just feathers found at what is believed to be the “kill site.”

A new beaver at the pond disappeared with no carcass ever found.

A 25-pound half-consumed catfish was discovered against a pond bank, an occurrence Crone said “has never happened before.”

A “button buck” deer was found completely consumed within a 24-hour period with much hair removed from the carcass, which Crone said is a typical sign a large cat was involved. Also the ribcage of the deer was pulled free of the carcass and found several feet away. The deer also had been dragged 200 feet from what is believed to be the “kill site.”

A dead coyote carcass that had its neck bitten and broken at the third or  fourth vertebrae and completely consumed was found in the same vicinity as the other casualties.

And all of the above occurred within a 100-yard radius.

The Eastern Mountain Lion, correctly known as “Puma Concolor Couguar,” was declared extinct by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service in March 2011.

After an extensive five-year research and review program, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and also the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries determined any reported sightings by local citizens of the commonwealth to be considered as mistaken identity of a dog, deer or coyote, Crone said.

Why?

“Because the official position is that they no longer exist,” he said. “There is absolutely no way to convince them otherwise because they believe them to be extinct. That is, of course, until someone comes up with a photo, video or carcass of these elusive cats.”

For whatever reason, Crone said it seems no one has captured a cougar on a game camera or cell phone. Those who have sent in photos have either been declared hoaxes, or the photograph was too blurred to make a positive identification.

Now when someone —like Crone — believes they have seen a cougar, the cat is regulated to be either an “escaped” or “released” animal and not of the original species of “Puma Concolor Couguar,” Crone said.

Whether released, escaped or a real Eastern “Puma Concolor Couguar,” Crone said he is looking forward to purchasing more game cameras, and this spring he is confident he will record more sightings of better video quality that “will remove the doubt from non-believers.”

Bob Crone, a Vernon Hill landowner who believes at least two large cats call his property home, offers the following tips to persons who may come into contact with a cougar.

Stop. Stand tall. Pick up small children and do not run because a cougar’s instinct is to chase.

Do not approach the animal.

Try to appear larger than the cougar. Never take your eyes off the animal or turn your back. Do not drop down or try to hide.

If the animal displays aggressive behavior, shout, wave your arms and throw rocks or sticks. The idea is to convince the cougar you are not prey, but a potential danger.

If the cougar attacks, fight back aggressively and try to stay on your feet. Do not play dead. Cougars have been drawn away by people who have fought back.

Contact your nearest public authority and report the occurrence as soon as possible.

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