DNR investigating possible mountain lion in Brown County

BROWN COUNTY — The Indiana Department of Natural Resources is so far unable to confirm whether a mountain lion was responsible for an attack on a domestic cat on March 11.

Homeowner James Halcomb, however, is convinced of what he saw.

“It was the size of a small deer, but real thick,” Halcomb said.

“It was very large. It was well over 100 pounds. It was definitely not bobcat, definitely a mountain lion, without a doubt. I got close.”

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources said on March 12 that DNR staff searched the site and could not find evidence that a mountain lion was responsible for the attack. The DNR continues to study the incident.

“DNR staff collected the domestic cat’s carcass at the site and searched the surrounding area for tracks or other signs of a mountain lion, but no additional evidence of a mountain lion was found, although there were clear tracks of other wildlife typical to the area, such as deer,” says a press release from Marty Benson, the DNR assistant director of communications.

James Halcomb raced to his home on Marlett Road from Nashville after his 20-year-old daughter called him the afternoon of March 11, hysterical.

“She was saying, ‘There’s a cat eating our cat in the yard.’ I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ She said, ‘There is a cat eating a cat in our yard.’ She said, ‘Dad it’s huge. It’s waist tall,’” Halcomb said.

A call reporting the incident came in to Brown County Dispatch just after 12:30 p.m. in the 3900 block of Marlett Road, off Green Valley Road on the edge of Yellowwood State Forest.

When Halcomb arrived, his daughter was still standing in the yard. “She said, ‘It just walked into the woods, into the brush.’ She said, ‘Dad it was up to my waist.’ She started bawling,” he said.

His daughter told him the animal had been sitting in the yard with their Siamese cat in its mouth.

Halcomb said he grabbed his gun and went the direction his daughter pointed, with his beagle by his side.

“I really didn’t think I was going to encounter it. I figured it was long gone, that it was probably a bobcat,” he said.

He said he walked about 50 yards and he saw the animal sitting at the edge of his property line with the pet still in its mouth. His dog took after the animal at that point.

“(The dog) ran it over the hill towards Yellowwood Road. Then it came back by me with my dog right on it,” Halcomb said.

“It ran up a huge white oak tree, turned and let this roar at my dog. This is like 50 yards from me. It jumped out of the tree, ran up another tree, jumped off of that tree then took over through this thick brush, and turkeys went everywhere.”

‘Very, very scary’

Brown County sheriff’s deputies and Animal Control began to arrive on scene along with DNR officers after the animal ran into the brush.

Halcomb said the animal took off north toward Oak Grove Road.

Det. Brian Shrader was riding in a vehicle with Det. Paul Henderson when the animal ran out in front of their vehicle.

“I’m pretty sure I saw what I thought was a mountain lion. I saw its tail. That’s pretty much all I can say. It was fast. I never saw much more than that,” Shrader said.

“I had never seen a mountain lion before, but I have seen bobcats, and they don’t really have a tail at all hardly.”

Both Shrader and Halcomb said the animal was about the size of a small deer.

According to the DNR, a mountain lion weighs between 80 and 160 pounds. They are about 7 to 8 feet long.

A bobcat weighs between 15 and 30 pounds. It is about 30 to 50 inches long with a tail measuring about 4 to 5 inches long, according to the DNR.

Halcomb said the animal was gold with a “very long, thick tail.”

Mountain lion tails are 2 to 3 feet long, according to DNR. Their coats are described as being tawny to golden brown.

“I probably could have got a shot, but I was stunned. I had my mind made this was a bobcat, had to be, and I probably wasn’t going to see it. It was a lion. It was huge,” Halcomb said.

When the animal made a sound toward his dog, Halcomb said it sounded like a “hissing roar.”

“The second tree, it didn’t run all the way up to the top and run down like that. It climbed it like a house cat would, then scampered around to the other side of that tree and jumped off of it,” he said.

“It was very, very scary.”

The family initially thought the animal had killed their two cats, but the other cat came home later that evening.

Halcomb said his family kept their pets indoors the night after the attack.

“To tell you the truth, I’m scared while it’s dark for my girls to go to the school bus. This thing was a lot bigger than anybody is realizing,” Halcomb said.

“This thing could take my smallest daughter with ease. It was humongous.”

Halcomb has lived in Brown County for 37 years. He lives on property his family has owned for decades. Neither he nor his family have seen a mountain lion before now.

“Instantly, when I saw it, I thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s a mountain lion,’” Halcomb said.

“There was no mistaking it. That first time I encountered it, I was in shock. This thing was huge,” he said.

“To tell you the truth, I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself.”

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Mountain lions are sometimes called cougars, pumas, catamounts and panthers, according to the DNR mountain lion page.

The DNR states that the likelihood of encountering a mountain lion in Indiana — or even Western states where there are breeding populations — is “remote.” The website states it is not likely for these animals to be seen in large cities or neighborhoods with humans.

The DNR provides the following advice if you encounter a mountain lion:

  • Do not approach the animal.Give it a way to escape.
  • Do not run from the animal, but instead stand and face the animal while making eye contact.
  • Do not crouch or bend over. Do all you can to appear larger, like raising your arms or opening your jacket or shirt. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly in a loud voice. Hold children and pets near you.
  • If you’re attacked, the DNR suggests using big sticks, stones or other available items to fight back.

In Indiana, the mountain lion is protected as an exotic mammal. But state laws do allow a homeowner or tenant to kill the animal “while it is causing damage to property owned or leased by the landowner or tenant.”

There have been two confirmed sightings of a mountain lion in Indiana: in southern Clay County in 2009 and in northern Greene County in 2010. “It is not known if these reports were the same animal, but their proximity makes it possible they were,” the DNR’s website states.

Mountain lions leave tracks that are approximately 3 to 4 inches long and 3 to 4 1/2 inches wide. They are often wider than long and have no claw prints, according to the DNR.

For more information on identifying big cats, the DNR suggests visiting Cougarnet.org.