Big cat sighting near Harmony Elementary
FARMINGTON – A large cat that was spotted near Harmony Elementary School on November 16 was probably a large bobcat, according to Iowa DNR wildlife specialists.
Students were kept inside that day as a precaution until DNR officials were contacted and made a determination of what kind of cat it was. A school teacher, Michelle Philp, took a photo of the cat that was wandering just north and west of the school. She shared the photo with the DNR. A search of the area did not turn up a mountain lion or bobcat.
Jeff Glaw, wildlife management specialist in the Sugema management section with the Iowa DNR, said, it appeared that the animal was a large bobcat.
He said the photo was taken from a cell phone at a distance of about 100 yards. It was witnessed by four teachers and one administrator.
“It’s hard to see at the distance, but I am surmising that it’s a large bobcat. However, that said, I never discount what people see.”
Glaw said that he showed Philps’ photo to the DNR furbearer biologist and also to his supervisor and all three thought it looked more like a bobcat than a mountain lion.
Glaw said while the photo was taken from a distance and therefore, not conclusive, the key was comparing the size of the animal with the vegetation nearby. “According to the Harmony staff, the height of the vegetation would be around two feet tall. Compared to that, this would be more in line with a bobcat than a mountain lion,” Glaw said.
“The biggest thing is a male mountain lion passing through would be at least one year old. Mountain lions do not leave their mother and go on their own until they reach between a year and 18 months,” Glaw said. By then, the mountain lions are nearly full grown and are about seven to eight feet in length and weigh 140-150 pounds. A bobcat is about three feet in length, with the average weight at 20-25 pounds. Sometimes, a bobcat can weigh as much as 40 pounds and a mountain lion up to 180 pounds, according to Wikipedia.
There is a black spot in the photo that could be a tail, but it also could be a leg going back as well, Glaw noted.
Mountain lions have a home range in South Dakota, Glaw said. “But their territory has expanded eastward and occasionally there might be sightings in Iowa.
“The closest Van Buren County has had to a mountain lion was one suspected in Davis County in 2014. It wasn’t confirmed, but suspected.”
Often, DNR wildlife experts use photos and prints to make a determination of what the animal is.
ABOUT MOUNTAIN LIONS
SOURCE: South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks
The mountain lion’s scientific name is Puma concolor, which means “cat of one color.” Adult mountain lions are tan to light cinnamon in color with a white underbelly and have black on the back of their ears and the tip of their tail. Adult males can grow to an excess of eight feet in length, including the tail, and weigh an average of 140-150 pounds. Adult females can grow up to seven feet long and weigh an average of 80-90 pounds. Mountain lions have very long tails which can be more than a third of the total length of the animal.
Newborn kittens are heavily spotted for the first three months of life, and then the spots begin to fade. Typically by six months of age the spots have almost completely faded; however, this can vary. Kittens may still have faded spots when they are a year old. At two to three months, kittens typically have been weaned and begin traveling with the mother. Kittens three months old weigh approximately 15 to 20 pounds. At six months of age kittens will weigh approximately 35 to 45 pounds Kittens stay with their mother until they become independent sometime between 10 to 18 months old. Seeing a female mountain lion alone does not mean that she does not have dependent kittens.
When walking in snow on level ground, mature males will have an average stride greater than 40 inches. Females and young lions will have a shorter stride, measuring less than 40 inches.
Tracks of lions, especially in snow or mud, can be used as another indicator of the sex of a lion or whether a female might have young with her. More than one set of tracks often indicates a female with young or a group of sub-adult lions. Immature males may leave tracks as large as their mother’s. The track of large adult males may be up to five inches wide and the average male will have tracks approximately four inches wide. Adult females leave tracks three and a half inches in width or less. Another way to determine gender from tracks is to measure the plantar (heel) pad. Since a lion in a walking gait usually places its hind foot on the track left by the same-side front foot, the hind track will usually be the most distinct and easiest to measure.