Mysterious Lancaster attack yields no mountain lion yet

Christiana, Pa. – An Amish farmer said he shot one cougar and
was attacked by another near his southern Lancaster County home
Oct. 9.

Pennsylvania Game Commission officials and state police used
tracking dogs and a helicopter armed with infrared cameras over
three days following the alleged attack, but failed to find any
cougars.

“We can say there was an animal, but we can’t say what that
animal was,” Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer Dennis
Warfel, who covers southern Lancaster County, said the night Samuel
Fisher, 42, was attacked.

According to Fisher and several of his neighbors, three cougars
– one black, one brown and one tan – had been spotted numerous
times by several farmers in Sadsbury and Bart townships in August,
September and October.

One boy reportedly watched one of the cougars attack and kill a
groundhog while he was raking hay with a team of horses. Another
young man and his brother reported two cougars stalked one of the
men as he exited a woodlot after working on a treestand.

Those sightings and others were reported to the Game Commission,
and Warfel said he put out a road-killed deer carcass in early
October to try to attract one of the cats, but was
unsuccessful.

Fisher met with Game Commission officials Oct. 8 to report that
he had seen the trio of cougars just a few days earlier.

“I asked them if I could shoot one of the cougars, but they told
me I couldn’t,” said Fisher, a father of nine children. “I told
them if I saw the cougars again, I was going to shoot one. They
told me if I did, to call them and they’d come pick it up.”

That night, two young Amish men were spotlighting deer near
Fisher’s farm when they reported seeing two cougars in a field. The
next evening, Fisher went to the field armed with a .30-.30 rifle
to search for the cougars.

Fisher said he saw the two cougars in the field and shot one
with his rifle. “It went right down,” he said. “But then it got up
and staggered off.”

Fisher said he followed the cat’s blood trail down a trail
separating a field of standing corn from a woodlot. While he was
looking at the ground, a cougar jumped out of a tree onto his back,
Fisher said.

Fisher estimated the cat, which was not the one he shot, was
about 8 feet long, including the tail, and weighed about 130
pounds. He said he fought with the cougar, which slashed at him
with its claws while standing on its hind legs.

“I got my pocketknife out and I started stabbing it,” he
said.

Fisher said he stabbed the cat three times in the abdomen before
it ran off. Bloodied from the brawl, Fisher staggered to a
neighbor’s house, told a women there he had been attacked by a
cougar and asked her to call 911. Then he collapsed.

An ambulance took Fisher to Lancaster General Hospital, where he
was treated for his injuries and released a few hours later.

Meanwhile, Game Commission officials, state troopers and a large
crowd of neighbors gathered at the scene of the attack and searched
for the cougars in the dark. Warfel said a blood trail was located,
but no dead animal was recovered.

The search resumed the next day, with state police providing a
helicopter, and two teams of dogs specially trained to hunt cats
were brought in from the Pocono region. The dogs and helicopter
found no trace of any cats.

After calling off the search Oct. 11, Game Commission officials
placed two bear traps baited with meat near the scene of the
attack, in hopes of capturing a cougar. If one of the cats walks
into the trap, a door will close on the barrel, locking the cat
inside.

Also, a road-killed deer carcass was placed in a field with a
trail camera monitoring it, in hopes of getting a picture of a
cat.

Thinking the cougars might be pen-raised animals that either
escaped from their owners, or were intentionally set free, Game
Commission officials checked everyone in the area who has a permit
to own a cougar to make sure their pets were accounted for.

“As far as I know, nobody was missing anything,” agency
spokesperson Cheryl Trewella said. “Of course, if someone was
keeping cougars illegally without a permit, we would have no way of
knowing about them.”

Blood samples collected at the scene of the attack were sent for
testing to a state police laboratory and to the wildlife laboratory
at East Stroudsburg University. Trewella said if the samples
contain DNA, scientists should be able to tell what animal the
blood came from. She did not know how long the tests might take to
complete.

Game Commission officials urged local farmers not to go out
hunting for the cougars, for their own safety. It is illegal to
kill a cougar in Pennsylvania, since they are a protected
species.

One of the state’s last known, wild Eastern mountain lions was
killed in 1874 in Berks County.

A Web site that tracks cougar sightings, www.easternpumaresearch.com,
reports there have been about 1,500 sightings in Pennsylvania since
1950.

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