Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 7, 2013

Mountain lions in W.Va.? Hoping for that one good, clear photo


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — The idea of unknown animals and the folklore behind them have always interested me. When I was a boy and crazy for dinosaurs, I was always fascinated by the Loch Ness Monster; it kept my hopes of living dinosaurs alive.

When I got older, I watched shows like “In Search Of” and learned about Bigfoot and the Abominable Snowman. Mom and Dad took my sister, Karen, and I to a Bigfoot movie. It was fun, but the doubts started creeping into my mind. This explorer could take crystal clear films of deer and flying geese, but he couldn’t get one Bigfoot shot that was in focus? Either he had very bad luck or something wasn’t right.

I always thought it was strange how Bigfoot was such a bad photo subject. I remember the first time I saw the famous “Patterson Film” of a Bigfoot walking away from the viewer. The beast looks over the shoulder as it walks into the forest. I’ve seen multiple documentaries about that film and nobody can say for sure whether it’s a Bigfoot. Some scientists say it moves in a way humans can mimic, others swear it’s a man in a suit — one fellow has come forward to say he was the guy in the hairy outfit. Other researchers say the film is so bad, it’s impossible to know one way or the other.

It seems like just about every photograph and video of a mystery creature is out of focus and open to debate, but that doesn’t stop the interest. I’ve always wanted to do a story about a mystery beast, and my chance came last week when a Bramwell family spotted something unusual on their home surveillance system.

Shot in the early morning hours before sun up, it shows a feline-shaped form stalking along an earthen bank. The homeowners believe it was a mountain lion, and even said they have heard the big cat screaming in the woods. A couple of small deer carcasses that seem to be the work of predators have been found, too.

A wildlife manager with the state Department of Natural Resources viewed the video and said the animal, weighing perhaps 50 pounds or so, could have been a large bobcat or a gray fox. A leg sticking out could have given the illusion of a tail.

A few days after the story ran, I received an email from a former Bramwell resident who said he saw a mountain lion years ago. Other readers posted their own memories of sightings on our Facebook page.

Officially, there are no mountain lions in West Virginia and most of the eastern states, but a mountain lion has one big advantage over an 8-foot-tall humanoid ape creature dubbed Bigfoot: Mountain lions are real. They exist in other parts of the country, and we know due to thousands of sightings, skeletons, skins, and specimens in zoos that mountain lions truly exist.

I have to ask myself what would keep mountain lions from roaming the mountains of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia. There seems to be plenty of prey animals. Any hunter could tell you about the thousands of deer living in the forest. Wild turkeys, squirrels, raccoons and other animals fit for a mountain lion’s dinner are also present.

When you drive along the highway, you will see thousands of wooded acres humans rarely visit due to their inaccessibility. One hunter I spoke to a few months ago told me that most hunters go only a couple hundred yards or so from established trails, leaving thousands of acres bare of human visitation.

I’m not ready to say Bigfoot doesn’t exist. The odds seem to be against the idea, but it seems like every time somebody declares something is impossible, they’re proven to be wrong. Mountains lions roaming in areas where they have been declared extinct seems to be an even greater possibility. Coyotes have immigrated into the region and thrived, so why not a few mountain lions colonizing old territory?

After hearing about Bigfoot and mountain lions in West Virginia, I have admit that I wonder what would happen if I one day saw the inexplicable dash across the highway? Rounding a curve and suddenly seeing a huge hairy creature for just a split second would be a wonder. I just wonder if I would tell anybody. Most likely I would tell a few friends.

If that magical moment ever arrives, I hope I have a camera ready and a subject that’s willing to pause for just a second. One good, crisp, unmistakable shot of a mountain lion could end the controversy. I’m more likely to talk about a mountain lion, too, because I’m more likely to be sure about what I saw. If I saw a Bigfoot, I’d wonder if I was only seeing what I hoped to see.

If I see a dinosaur, I’ll know I saw what I was hoping to see.

Greg Jordan is senior reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com.