Lions And Zoos

Imaginations run wild | News, Sports, Jobs

A piece of news caught my eye last week as it appears the citizens of Eleanor, W.Va. believe they have a mountain lion among them and have been talking about it on social media.

According to a report by WOWK in Huntington, a woman who says she spotted the big cat in town last month has prompted others to report stories of alleged mountain lion sightings in the state.

One person posted a story, which WOWK reproduced:

“Not long ago I had mentioned that on one of our many trips from PA to visit family in Charlotte NC, I remembered looking out the passenger side window into a ravine well below the side of the mountain highway at WV and suddenly see what looked like an African lioness walking along the train tracks. By the time he recorded what I was watching, we were too far to stop. Stunned and puzzled, I said nothing at that time. This would likely have been in the 1990s and either on the section of I-79 shortly before joining Route 19, or somewhere on Route 19 near the north end, well before dropping down near Beckley. … It was long after that I realized what I saw was not an African lioness but a cougar.

This story was told by Jean Claar Bassett, from Charlotte, NC

Officials with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources say that is not possible. The eastern mountain lion is extinct and there is too much openness in the territory for a western mountain lion to have roamed. A friend of mine who is knowledgeable about the native wildlife said the only scenario in which it could be a mountain lion is if one escaped from a “Tiger King” style zoo somewhere in the area.

But residents are more likely to see something else.

It reminds me of a trip I took years ago, to Shenandoah National Park (not that far from West Virginia, in terms of roaming wildlife). A ranger was talking about hikers who spotted a deer carcass dragged up a tree. Their conclusion was that some big cat – a cougar, for example – must have done it.

This ranger also said that if it was a mountain lion, it was one that had escaped from captivity and had not been reported. This would have taken place around the time Bassett said one was spotted in a ravine in the southern part of West Virginia, so who knows?

As wonderful as it may be to learn that an extinct species has simply been hiding from us all this time, the truth is probably something far more mundane.

Still. I was driving south on I-77 a week earlier, and around the time you pass the first toll plaza after Charleston, things get…crazy…out there. It’s easy to look at these floating hills, with no human structure in sight, and imagine a cougar lurking just under the tree canopy. Or Bigfoot, for that matter.

Don’t look up or let your mind wander too long. These turns can be tricky. I saw a poor traveler towing an RV weave and wobble and almost lose it until I felt comfortable passing. Then I peeked out and the guy was pale as a ghost and saying words that I can’t replicate here.

I just smiled.

Venturing into West Virginia is not for the faint of heart.

But it’s the kind of place where it’s easy to believe in the improbable. It’s easy to imagine there’s a cougar, mothman, or even a rustling Sheepsquatch just on the other side of a thick stand of trees. We’re used to embracing the wild and the fantastic here.

Let us remember that this weekend, as we, the Always Free Mountaineers, celebrate our country’s Independence Day.

To hell with the old, boring and “sure,” we are destined for something more imaginative than that – incredible, even. We just have to find it.

Christina Myer is editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be contacted by email at [email protected]

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