2 cougar sightings reported in Del.|jon_downes|jon@cfz.org.uk|01/13/05 at 13:18:39|jon_downes|xx|0||
2 cougar sightings reported in Del.
One near Rockland, one at Lums Pond

MELISSA TYRRELL / The News Journal

It's a jungle out there.

Days after animal control officers captured an exotic canine near New Castle, state park officials received two reports of the First State's favorite mystery creature: the roving cougar.

Dozens of Delawareans have reported cougar sightings over the past decade. No one has reported a confrontation or injury so far, said Rob Line, a natural areas program manager for the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

Bill Matthews of Rockland - where a cougar was seen stalking deer on the DuPont Country Club golf course in the mid-1990s - reported Monday that he saw a cougarlike critter about 12:10 a.m. at Del. 100 and Del. 92.

Matthews watched a big, tawny animal with a long tail cross the intersection near the entrance to Brandywine Creek State Park, near Rockland. He thought it was a big dog but then watched it pounce onto the wall of a bridge and bound into the ravine.

"That was a very un-doglike thing to do," said his wife, Colleen Matthews. She related the tale for her husband, who went on a business trip the same day.

A couple of days earlier, Line said, the department received a report that a cougar was seen at Lums Pond, south of Glasgow and 15 miles away as the crow flies.

If Delaware were a frontier state, Line said, a lone cougar could travel that territory in a matter of days with no problem.

"But to go over [Del.] 896, U.S. 40, I-95 and Route 4 and all that to get up there and stay alive? I doubt it," Line said. Line said his department receives scattered cougar sightings each year.

It is likely a cougar - or two - could be loose in Delaware if someone who had the creature as an exotic pet set one free, he said.

"Why you would want to own one is beyond me," he said, adding it's more likely folks are seeing bobcats or other animals.

As for the canine, the animal captured by SPCA officers on Friday turned out to be a "high degree of coyote," said John E. Caldwell, executive director of the Delaware SPCA.

The animal was first spotted sunning itself on a U.S. 13 median by a truck driver. It was captured nearby after a five-hour struggle to shoo it, then flush it, from a drainage pipe.

"It's doing fine, still skittish with this environment and the dogs barking in the background," said Caldwell, who had several experts examine the animal to determine it's mostly a coyote, not a wolf. "It's very difficult to determine if it's 100 percent pure."

Caldwell said he's working to place the animal or release it somewhere within a few days. He said last week that the animal, which was captured from the highway for its own safety, would not be euthanized.

Caldwell knew of one other coyote sighting in the state: an animal struck by a car a few years ago.

Line said all sorts of animals are migrating east, but from a great distance west.

Reports show that mountain lions are Atlantic-bound - but they're still much closer to the Rocky Mountains.

"I wonder what's going on," Line said. "The coyote are here and the black bear are coming."