March 18 • 01:00 PM

Wild about wild animal sightings

March 25, 2009
These bear sighting stories have gotten a lot of mileage—just like the occasional cougar sighting stories do.

A lot of readers approach these reported sightings with more than a little skepticism. I can relate. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! and all that yadayadayada. I've heard it all, yessiree. I'll admit it is a little fantastic. Add some healthy doses of sharp wit and humor to the mix and I agree that some of these sightings seem a bit over the top.

But once you talk to the people who've spotted these animals, you come away with a different thought. You start thinking it's quite possible. They're quite sure about what they've seen. Adamant even. And very convincing because they believe what they see. And a lot of times (like in this week's bald eagle sighting) they really see what they think they're seeing. That's what keeps me a true believer.

One guy even brought in plaster cast tracks of a cougar he spotted in a field behind his home. Fortunately the ground was wet but not too wet and the cast looked like something from the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was the perfect imprint of what looked to me to be a very, very large cat paw. I'm excited beyond belief. I also believe that it's a very, very large cat who made that print in the mud. It's like a huge blow up of the small housecat tracks I see in the snow when strays roam around my deck or brick path.

Fairly bursting with excitement, I take photos of the casts, have them scanned and emailed to a biologist with the DNR. Of course the biologist prefaces all of his comments with the fact that "it's really hard to tell from scanned, emailed photos" but what he's looking at are not cougar tracks.

Pointy claws and all, he insists he's looking at the tracks of a large dog. I'm dashed. He tries to explain why but I just don't see it. Dog tracks look a lot different than cat tracks to me—but I'm no biologist. I'm also not employed by the DNR, which has long made its skeptical stance on the whole wild cougars (or any cougar period) issue in Michigan quite well known. Unless it can be documented with DNA, it's not a cougar as far as the DNR is concerned.

So be it. At least with the bear sightings naturalists don't rule out the possibility that a young cub could be rooting around looking for territory—though it is unlikely that any type of bear population would take up residence here.

Still, one never knows with Mother Nature...

...Take the case of the somewhat lesser known Black Angus Bear of Capac—a very real creature indeed.

This particular animal was spotted by the lagoon. We of course receive word of it—I think the spotter may have even tried to shoot some video of it. Of course, we're all over it. If there was a bear lurking about the lagoon, we want to get to the bottom of it—so to speak. We want the story.

These stories are hard to confirm, I know this. But it never stops me from hoping that such a sighting is confirmable and true. I always secretly hope to spot the bear or cougar myself and be the first and only one to get the elusive photo to prove it.

Thus, I approach the Black Angus Bear story with the same zeal. Unfortunately, that zeal is rather quickly quashed when the tipster calls back with some news. Upon further investigation, it's determined that the bear is a cow. A clue? Bears don't have hooves.

"It's Capac's Black Angus Bear," the tipster quips.

Even a true believer like me cannot contain my laughter—which rises like bubbles above my disappointment.

I am not the only one who gets such a kick out of this story—though it's one that feeds the skeptics. Right after our first report of the bear sighting in Imlay City, someone named Joe submits a question about it over our Web site. (Currently that function is not working properly so my answer is not posted at the moment—please keep checking back, we're working on it.)

Joe asks "Is that the same bear that was sighted in Capac?"

Well, Joe, all I can say is police didn't find hoofprints—or bear tracks for that matter—when they investigated the woods where the bear was spotted. So the answer is likely 'no.'

As far as kicks and grins go, however, it's a big 'yes' for me right now, Joe. Thanks for the memories...

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