Nebraska Big Cat

From: The Lincoln Journal
Date: 12/15/94

Byline: Al J. Laukaitis

"BIG CAT" SIGHTINGS MYSTIFY STERLING

STERLING - A teen-age girl has the creature's snarl on tape, and others have heard the sound at night.

Several people have seen it around town near the ballpark. One woman even claims to have seen it near a horse corral from her kitchen window. But no one has been able to get a good close look at the animal to identify it. And game wardens have been unable to find any tracks. Call it the mystery of the Big Cat.

"I can't believe somebody hasn't shot it or seen it up close," said Jim Scott, owner of Scott's Place, a cafe and bar in this small community about 40 miles southest of Lincoln. Scott was referring to the large cat some residents claim to have seen around town since spring. He won't say if the animal is a cougar or mountain lion - only that it weighs about 80-90 pounds and has a long tail.

"It ain't a bobcat." said Scott when queried BÁby a reporter. Scott said he got within 20 feet of the cat last summer near the ballpark with a flashlight, but didn't get a good look at the animal. Other residents have reported seeing a big cat in the same area.

"A couple people north of town saw it. These ain't drinking people either," Scott said.

Lois Schmidt, who lives on the north edge of town, saw it at 4:39 p.m. Dec. 2 from her kitchen window. Schmidt said she looked outside because their horse was going crazy and saw the large cat running by.

"It was pretty good size, too," she said. "It wasn't a dog. It wasn't a deer. It wasn't a bobcat. It loped. It definately had a lope to it." She described the cat as being about 3 feet tall and having tawny fur, but does not recall it having a long tail. "Everybody asks about that," she added.

Schmidt said some residents believe there may even be a den of cats because they have reported seeing small and large ones. Some people believe the cats have made a home somewhere along Tickle Tail Creek.

"I'm a believer. There's one around. I know because I saw it," Schmidt said. Scott's teen-age daughter Angela, recorded the cat's snarl on tape, but when she played it for some employees of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission they couldn't identify it.

So far the alleged cat is not known to have killed any dogs or cats or other small animals in town, according to Scott. He believes the animal is somewhat tame and may have even been someone's pet at one time. Frank Andelt, a non-game and fur bearer biologist with the commission, said the agency received numerous reports of a large cat in the Sterling area last spring, but when employees went out to investigate they could not find any tracks.

Andelt said the local town marshal reportedly saw the animal through a rifle scope. However, he said, the agency has not received any reports of a large cat in the town recently. Cougars or mountain lions were common to in Nebraska before the state was settled by pioneers. Since then their numbers have dwindled and sightings have become quite rare.

In 1991 a hunter shot a mountain lion near Crawford in the Panhandle. It was the first such animal to be killed in at least 100 years, a commission employee said. Andelt said the commission received a report this fall of a mountain animal in the Stamford area near the Harlan County Reservoir in south-central Nebraska.

"Supposedly, an animal took some sheep from a rancher," he said. Control workers went out to investigate, and it was determined that the killings could have been done by a mountain lion, Andelt said.

There also was a report of a mountain lion in the Wildcat Hills area near Scottsbluff last week, he said.