Do mountain lions live in Virginia?|Richard_F||02/15/07 at 20:18:54|richard_f|xx|0||Do mountain lions live in Virginia?

Despite scores of claims by hunters, hikers and others in the past
three decades, there have been no confirmed sightings of puma concolor
in the state since 1882.

But the best chance for proof could come this year when Appalachian
Trail researchers conduct a predator survey in hundreds of locations
along the AT in the mid-Atlantic region.

Dozens of motion-sensitive infrared cameras will capture plenty of
images of black bears, weasels and other meat-eaters in the remote
forests and black-topped suburbia traversed by the famous footpath.

Researchers don't expect to capture an image of the elusive cougar,
any more than they expect a picture of a passenger pigeon or dodo
bird. But there's always the miniscule chance of discovering the holy
grail of Eastern carnivores.

"Maybe we'll find the mythical, mysterious mountain lion," said Bill
McShea, a Smithsonian Institution wildlife ecologist who will lead the
AT study. "You never know."

The pilot study is part of the AT's new status as a "mega- transect,"
or a scientific study of a large geographic region. The recreational
footpath is being used as the world's first permanent mega-transect in
an effort to monitor environmental threats to the eastern United States.

Motion-triggered cameras

Between April and November, researchers and volunteers plan to post 50
digital cameras in 350 predetermined sites in Virginia, West Virginia
and Maryland.

The cameras will be mounted to trees along with scented lures, placed
roughly a half-mile apart and moved monthly to new locations.

The locations will be within the AT corridor, but not along the trail
itself to avoid being triggered by passing hikers. The data will be
uploaded about once a month to a National Park Service Web site.

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