Unconfirmed mountain lion sightings cap chaotic week in Washington

5:07 PM, Oct 4, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Despite an official email alert to Southeast Washington residents of a "confirmed" mountain lion sighting in the 3600-block of Highwood Drive near Pope Branch Park, the city's chief animal control officer says there is no credible evidence that a big cat is on the loose.

"This is something that seems to happen every October," said Chief Scott Giacoppo of the Washington Humane Society Animal Control division.  "Last year we had reports from Glover Park."

Giacoppo said his agency has even used a professional wildlife tracker in the search for evidence, but has never turned up any confirmation after several years of reports.

The latest mountain lion sighting was reported Wednesday evening by Linda Wiley who compared the size of the animal she saw to a Great Dane.  

"I don't feel comfortable coming outside right now," Wiley said.

The Mayor's Office of Neighborhood engagement posted alerts on Facebook and Twitter, and sent an email to subscribers of the police district 5-D listserv.

Mountain lions, also known as pumas or cougars weigh about 150 pounds.  Wild populations of the big cats are considered extinct east of the Mississippi River with the exception of a small population of pumas in the Florida Everglades.

The last recorded human encounter with a mountain lion in the region was in 1887 when an animal was shot in Virginia.

Even so, wildlife workers consider sightings worthy of investigation, especially after a bear was captured off Indian Lane in NW Washington in June.

Giacoppo and three other wildlife officers investigated the woods behind Wiley's house but found no evidence of a mountain lion.

"We're ready for anything," said Giacoppo.

Giacoppo theorized that residents might be encountering coyotes, which are much smaller than a mountain lion but have long tails and could be mistaken in a fleeting sighting by people unfamiliar with wildlife.  Coyotes, traditionally a western animal,  have migrated east and been repeatedly confirmed in DC parks and suburban areas.

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