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Saturday, October 25, 2003



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GARY T. KUBOTA / GKUBOTA@ STARBULLETIN.COM
Arizona biologist Stan Cunningham demonstrated yesterday how to set a snare to capture the mysterious large cat roaming rural Olinda on Maui. Cunningham, who will be teaching state workers how to set the snares, conducted the demonstration at the state base yard in Kahului.


Expert thinks big cat
is dangerous

The wildlife biologist from Arizona
believes the feline on Maui
is a jaguar or leopard


KAHULUI >> An animal-snare expert said he thinks the big cat roaming Upcountry Maui weighs about 150 pounds and is hazardous to the local residents.

"It's a danger to landowners, potentially. ... It's a danger to the livestock," said Stan Cunningham, who is on Maui to help state officials catch the animal, which has been spotted often in the Olinda area in recent months.

"I think it's a jaguar or leopard," said Cunningham.

State wildlife biologist Fern Duvall said the big cat continues to roam in a 24-square-mile area in lower to middle Olinda.

Cunningham, a wildlife research biologist working for the Arizona Fish & Game Department, said a hind paw print indicates the cat probably weighs about 150 pounds or more.

Cunningham, who arrived late Wednesday night, has been brought to Maui to help state wildlife workers snare the cat and show them how to set snares. He said he has snared about five cats and more than 150 bears.

Cunningham said that in Arizona he usually uses hounds and not snares to capture a large cat. He said the hounds chase the large cat up a tree, and he fires a tranquilizer dart to sedate it.

Mindy Wilkinson, the state invasive species coordinator, said Cunningham rode a helicopter Thursday for an aerial view of the cat's habitat in Olinda and to develop a strategy for capture.

Wilkinson said veterinarians are on standby to tranquilize and transport the snared cat.

State officials plan to transfer the big cat to the Panaewa Zoo on the Big Island.

Cunningham said he also was given a ground tour of certain areas, where he laid snares in gulches but did not set them. He said signs will be posted warning people about the presence of the traps before the snares are set to capture the cat.

He has brought about 22 snares and plans to set 10 to 15 of them before he leaves on Wednesday.

Cunningham said it is not unusual to take a couple of months to capture a big cat. He said the cat has a wide range where there is ample game, such as deer and chicken, and "you can't bait a cat."

"They kill what they eat," he said.

At the same time, Cunningham said, since the big cat was probably brought to Maui as a domestic pet, it may behave differently.

Cunningham said the traps he is setting are "leg-hold snares" and that none of his snares has killed an animal.

He said he is also careful to set the snares so that it is likely to catch only the big cat, although there is some chance it could snare a wild pig.

The snare is actually a looped wire attached to a spring mechanism and a tree. When the big cat steps on a trigger activating the spring mechanism hidden on a path, it pulls the loop around the leg.

Cunningham said one of the best opportunities to catch a big cat occurs when it has just killed an animal. He said a big cat will eat about 20 pounds, then walk up a hill to rest, and it will return later when it is hungry again.

Cunningham said the big cat can be captured by setting snares along paths it uses to return to the killed animal.

He said a large cat will go wherever it wants to go, but this cat seems to have some "sense of fidelity" to the Olinda area.

The scent from an African serval taken from the Honolulu Zoo will be used near some snares in hopes of attracting the cat, he said.

State wildlife officials tried unsuccessfully to catch the big cat in June with baited wire cages.

Cunningham said he is confident the capture can occur safely -- "but I'm not confident in how much time it will take to capture it. What it takes to get a cat trapped is time," he said.

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