Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Searchers seek signs
of mystery cat on Maui

The team of eight wants to
verify the large cat's existence

WAILUKU >> State and federal wildlife workers were planning to conduct a search this morning of a lower Olinda area where residents have reported seeing a large catlike animal.

State wildlife biologist Fern Duvall said the search will involve at least eight trained people and focus on a gulch area where residents have reported nighttime commotions.

Residents have reported seeing the animal mauka of Seabury Hall on the Pukalani side of Olinda Road in Upcountry Maui on the slopes of Haleakala.

Duvall said the searchers will not be carrying weapons and only want to verify the presence of a large cat in the gulch. He said they will be looking for signs indicating the presence of the animal, including paw prints, dead carcasses and fur.

Duvall said the search team does not include members of the general public or the media because he wants to restrict the search to trained observers who will exercise caution.

"We don't want to move the animal, and we don't want to compromise our safety," Duvall said.

Wildlife officials set a baited trap in the vicinity of the gulch area on June 12 but so far have caught nothing, he said.

Duvall said there have been no new sightings of the cat since an Olinda couple, Susan and Willie Wachter, said they saw the animal on June 9 as they were in a vehicle going out of their driveway.

Susan Wachter said the animal was "catlike" and a "very large dark, almost black animal" that disappeared in the gulch near her home.

Duvall said six people have had good sightings of the animal, and he thinks the animal may be a jaguar or leopard, both of which are banned in Hawaii.

Residents said there has been a decrease in the number of chickens and more noise at night in the gulch.

Some people suspect someone brought the animal to Maui as a pet.

A person in possession of a large cat barred from entry into Hawaii can face up to $200,000 in fines and three years in prison. There is an amnesty program for those who turn in banned animals.


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