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Unconfirmed big cat sightings continue around Indiana

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Reports of possible mountain lion sightings across Indiana continue coming in even though state wildlife officials haven't confirmed any sightings for nearly four years.

The state Department of Natural Resources has received about 300 reports of possible big cat sightings since early 2010, agency biologist Shawn Rossler told The Herald-Times.

One man made plaster castings of paw prints this week from a suspected big cat on his property near Morgan-Monroe State Forest outside Bloomington.

Rossler said those prints were likely left by a smaller animal, such as a bobcat or a possum, but that the DNR keeps reviewing reports.

"We know it's a rare possibility, but we want to know about it as much as anyone," Rossler said.

The last mountain lion spotting confirmed by the DNR was in May 2010 from photos taken by a motion-sensitive camera in a rural area of Greene County just east of Bloomfield, some 20 miles southwest of Bloomington.

That was followed by numerous other big cat sightings in the area of southwestern Indiana, including by a police officer who spotted a mountain lion eating a deer carcass along Indiana 37 near Bedford. A mountain lion warning was also issued at the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center.

The animals had last been confirmed in the state during the 1860s.

In 2007, a 75-pound female cougar escaped from the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Clay County, which neighbors Greene County, when she may have climbed a tree and gone over a 12-foot-high fence. That cat has never been found.

Most of the possible panther tips the DNR reviews turn out to be other animals, inconclusive reports or Internet hoaxes, Rossler said.

Mountain lions that have been documented to have moved from the west tend to be young, transient males that can cover long distances as they head east.

"We don't have a breeding population, and we don't expect to have one," Rossler said.

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Information from: The Herald Times, www.heraldtimesonline.com

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