The mountain lion first seen July 29 in Jefferson County appears to have taken a shine to Northeast Ohio-Northwest Pennsylvania.
Spotted by an Ohio Department of Natural Resources-Division of Wildlife officer near 3,032-acre Fernwood State Forest, the tawny-colored cat was captured via an iPhone camera. The images were taken by Kenneth Fleeman of Paris, Pennsylvania.
Fleeman lives only six miles from the state line. His images were captured late in the afternoon of August 7 and were shot in his backyard. Grainy as the two iPhone-shot photos may be, they still offer the first known pictures of the mountain lion.
“I noticed the cat while working on the pool when my Jackabee, ‘Mollie,’ became highly agitated,” Fleeman said. “The cat appeared to be watching Mollie as she was tied out, though we do keep her in a kennel at night.”
Fleeman said he stepped up to the edge of the woods to take the photographs, and then also stood beside a tree in the foreground of the wide angle photo.
The cat then stood up, looked at Fleeman after which the critter stepped down “and headed into the brush,” Fleeman said.
“It was about the size of a full grown Lab or German shepherd; tan in color with lighter face and chest,” Fleeman said. “The tail was long and thick.”
Prior to Fleeman’s encounter the cougar was seen by an Ohio Wildlife Division officer near the state forest.
What the Wildlife Division is doing is reviewing its records of people licensed to own such animals.Oho recently stiffened its laws regulating exotic wild animals including the requirement of site inspection of any facility and additional permitting protocols.
However, Division of Wildlife officer Peter Novotny said his agency worked with the Ohio Department of Agriculture in searching through the records to see if any licensed individual possessed a mountain lion.
Yet no known person in Northeast Ohio has the required permit for owning such a critter, Novotny said,
State biologists do say that if the original sighting was genuine and the animal was a wild mountain lion then in all likelihood it was young male.
That is because young male lions and young male black bears both share a trait that once sent on their way by its mother the animal is looking for new territory to set up a home range.
Ohio is within the species' original per-European settlement range, says the national non-profit Cougar Fund.
The Cougar Fund says no known cougar population exists in the state, having been extirpated long ago.
“The closest known breeding east-to-west population of mountain lions is northwest Nebraska, and north-to-south breeding population is the Florida panther,” says Penny Maldonado, the funds managing director.
Wildlife Division officials say that it's District Three (Northeast Ohio) Office in Akron will field reports of any similar potential sightings. Those sightings can be called in to the District office at 330-644-2293.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Jeff is the retired News-Herald reporter who covered the earth sciences, the area's three county park systems and the outdoors for the newspaper. During his 30 years with The News-Herald Jeff was the recipient of more than 100 state, regional and national journalism awards. He also is a columnist and features writer for the Ohio Outdoor News, which is published every other week and details the outdoors happenings in the state.