Trap set for big cat|Richard_F||09/03/04 at 13:41:57|richard_f|xx|0||Trap set for big cat

September 2, 2004

ZANESVILLE -- Sheriff's deputies responded to the latest large cat sighting in an unlikely place -- their boss' back yard.

Muskingum County sheriff's deputies have searched for the last two months for what is believed to be a large cat -- like a mountain lion -- that has been prowling the southwest portion of the county. Now a group of exotic animal owners from Licking County has been recruited to help trap the animal.

Neighbors of Sheriff Bob Stephenson spotted the animal in the woods bordering their property on Wesley Chapel Road around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Jeff Flinn saw a 6-foot-long reddish-brown cat sitting in the hayfield that afternoon. It jumped into the forested area nearby and disappeared. He told Garnet Hampp, a Wesley Chapel Road resident, who alerted Stephenson.

Stephenson had just gotten home quickly called up his department on his radio, and deputies rushed to the site in the hopes of finding and capturing the animal.

"I hope we can capture this thing soon, one way or another," Stephenson said. "We've never had an incident where a human has been injured, and I don't want that to occur."

Since July, there have been 22 sightings or encounters reported from Fultonham to Roseville. Some incidents involved farm animals that were injured by a large carnivore, possibly a big cat.

Deputies are enlisting the help of a group of exotic animal owners out of Licking County to assist them in trapping the animal, Chief Deputy Wes Elson said. The individuals have placed a metal cage on property near the treeline bordering the woods where the animal was last seen and baited it with chicken.

Residents have volunteered to check the cage daily to see if the cat is inside.

"The trap is not close to these people's houses," Stephenson said. "We told them if they heard or saw anything to call us, and we will call this group of people to remove the animal. We hope we don't have to destroy it."

Stephenson said the group's goal is to relocate the animal.

In the meantime, the Hampps and their family members are keeping their eyes open and being cautious.

"The longer this goes on, the wilder I think that cat is going to get, and we're afraid it will hurt somebody," Hampp said.