Craigsville's mystery animal slinks into myth|Richard_F||09/17/04 at 02:20:29|richard_f|xx|0||Craigsville's mystery animal slinks into myth
Big cat search terminated

Bonnie Naumann
Aug. 18, 2004

CRAIGSVILLE -- No one has seen the big cat in 10 days.

Maybe it has moved on, or maybe it settled in Showker's Flats.

Craigsville residents are still talking about the big cat Joe Rowland spotted on his property July 19, but no one has seen it lately.

Exposed film taken this week from motion-sensitive cameras on Rowland's 70-acre property documented groundhogs, deer and rabbits, but no felines, said Capt. Mike Clark with Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. His agency had installed two cameras on Rowland's property to help identify the cat, but had removed them both Tuesday.

A picture shot by Rowland left something to be desired, said Al Borgeouis, a wildlife biologist with the agency. Borgeouis said he didn't believe the low resolution digital photo was a hoax, but said he was certain the beast wasn't a mountain lion.

Mountain lions have been extirpated from the Commonwealth and were classified as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1973, according to the department's Web site. Small populations exist in the Smoky Mountain National Park and the Carolinas, according to the Web site.

Long-time residents of the mountains bordering the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests in Virginia say cats have always been here.

Marcus Hubbard, born and raised in Craigsville, said he wouldn't be surprised if there was more than one big cat wandering around. "They're in Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, so why not Virginia?" he asked.

Rumors initially spread of a loose, pet African lion but no livestock was reported missing, and game officials had heard no reports of missing jungle cats.

Borgeouis said he believed the mystery animal was a bobcat. He estimated it was a smaller animal, based upon measurements game officials took of 6-inch to 8-inch tall grass near the spot the cat was sighted and the appearance of the animal in Rowland's photograph.

Roy Thompson, game-checker and IGA manager, saved a copy of Rowland's picture in his store and showed it to friends who stopped by the store. Above the copier, a stuffed bobcat snarled and raised a vicious claw. The tips of its ears are dotted black and the fur on its shoulders was darker than the rest.

Thompson pointed out that Rowland's picture showed a mostly tawny animal with no large dark streaks.

"I think it was just a big mountain lion," Rowland said.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries had not documented anything Tuesday about the animal's identity, staff said.