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Tuesday, June 17, 2003



State sets traps
for leopard-size
cat near Olinda

Four Maui sightings have been
reported since early February


WAILUKU >> State wildlife officials have set out two large box traps in the lower Olinda area to capture what some residents describe as a "catlike animal" that may weigh up to 100 pounds.

State wildlife biologist Fern Duvall said several witnesses report that the animal has a big head, with dark brown or tan fur and an upturned tail, and about the size of a Labrador dog or larger.

Officials have not determined if indeed a large cat, which is not native to Hawaii, is on the loose, but they set out the traps to be cautious, Duvall said.

"All we have (are) these fleeting observations of it," Duvall said.

Based on the descriptions provided by witnesses, Duvall said if there is a cat, it may be a leopard or jaguar. (Mountain lions, large cats with tan-colored fur, have small heads, he said.)

Duvall said he has not received any reports of wild deer or domestic animals being killed by a wild animal, which may mean the cat is a pet and has a home to return to every night.

Duvall said beef or pork bones from a butcher are being put into the boxes to lure the animal into the traps. The boxes are about 4 feet tall, 3 feet wide and 8 feet long.

Six people have reported seeing the animal on four separate occasions in the area mauka of Seabury Hall on the Pukalani side of Olinda Road, Duvall said.

State officials said the first sighting was in early February when a man saw the animal in a driveway.

The second sighting took place in mid-March when two women saw it walking on a downed tree trunk in a pasture. The third sighting was in April or May when a woman saw it near a pasture, and the fourth on June 9 when a married couple saw it cross 20 feet in front of them in a pasture, Duvall said.

Olinda resident Bridget Tisinger, the third witness, said she was driving in the afternoon to her home in lower Olinda on Hanamu Road in late April or early May when she saw a large cat in the bushes near a pasture 50 feet away.

The cat, about the size of a small cougar, was solid tan in color, with ears a little darker, she said.

"I thought, What the heck was that?" Tisinger said. "It just took me off guard."

Tisinger said she saw the animal for about three seconds. She said she is certain it was a large cat, although she could not tell what kind.

"When somebody figures out what it is, I'd love to know," she said.

Duvall said he has not spoken to Tisinger, but the other witnesses have said they saw a dark brown cat.

Duvall said he received numerous inquiries from concerned residents who have been hearing rumors about the animal. Officials released details about the animal sightings in an effort to stop the rumors and receive additional information from other witnesses who have not come forward.

Duvall said state officials have never captured a large cat on Maui, although they have received previous sightings.

A person found to be in possession of a cat that is unauthorized for importation into Hawaii faces a felony with the maximum penalty of $200,000 and three years in prison.

The state Department of Agriculture has an amnesty program that allows residents to turn in unauthorized animals without penalty.

To notify officials of a sighting, contact the pest hot line on Oahu at 586-7378 or toll-free from neighbor islands, 984-2400, ext. 67378.



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Have you seen this animal?

Anyone who sees an animal fitting the following description is asked to call the pest hot line toll-free on Maui, 984-2400, ext. 67378.

Color: Dark brown
Size: About the size of a Labrador dog, may be as large as 100 pounds
Distinguishing features: Big head, and a long tail upturned at the end

Some of the past big-cat sightings in Hawaii:

>> May 1984: A man driving through the woods in Kokee, Kauai, saw a big cat leaping from a ditch onto a road near YWCA's Camp Sloggett.
>> February 1988: The state searched unsuccessfully for a big cat, believed to be a cougar, in the hills above Aina Haina.
>> June 1988: Specialized Services Division searched the Aina Haina Hills for a big white cat.
>> September 1991: A 3-month-old female cougar was seized from a Hawaii Loa Ridge home after tipped-off searchers heard a soft whistle call coming from the cat.
>> August 1993: Residents report a big, tawny wildcat in Palolo Valley.

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