This is a photographer's picture of Sue Hauptly's blurry video of what she believes was a mountain lion near her Dunkerton home.
DENNIS MAGEE / Courier Regional Editor

Home video surfaces of big, cat-like creature near Dunkerton

DUNKERTON --- Sue Hauptly makes no claims about her skills as a cinematographer.

"Prepare to see a whole lot of nothing," she says.

The home video jumps in erratic swings from sky to grass to trees. The focal point appears to be a few yellow-brown lumps in the distance. Then it's back to the sky, the grass, the trees.

For a few tantalizing moments, Hauptly captures what she intends. One lump in particular is moving. The shape is an animal of some sort with its back to the lens. It appears to groom itself, a hind leg sticking up and out at an angle.

Later, the animal turns broadside, striking a particularly feline pose. Emphasize feline.

And that is all the proof believers will need: A mountain lion did at least pass through the neighborhood east of town.

Hauptly picks up the video camera for the first time March 14. Walking by the patio doors, she notices not one, but four animals frolicking in an open area. Three are smaller versions of a larger individual.

"My first thought was, 'That looks like a lioness,'" she says.

"But I thought people will think I must be crazy."

She watches for about 45 minutes.

"They were jumping around and enjoying the sunshine," she says.

According to her husband, Sue Hauptly doesn't make excited telephone calls. He can remember just one in recent memory.

"The only other time she called me and said, 'You're not going to believe me. You're going to think I'm crazy,' was on 9/11," Jim Hauptly says.

He tried to talk her through the video camera's mechanics.

"The battery was dead, and she had never run it," Jim says.

"I went out with a still camera because I knew I was really messing this up," Sue says.

Jim measures the distance Saturday. The closest the animals ever got to the couple's home was about 370 feet. When Sue first saw the creatures, they were as much as 500 feet away.

Jim and Sue reason whatever the four animals were --- and they have no doubt about the species --- they had to be large. Or the animals never would have caught Sue's attention in the first place.

Having seen the video dozens of times, hearing the story on more than one occasion and knowing his wife, Jim is convinced: Sue saw what it is she claims.

Ron Andrews, furbearer specialist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, hasn't seen the video or heard the story, and he doesn't know Sue Hauptly. Based on the odds and years of "wild mountain lion chases," he doubts the identification is accurate.

"I'm very suspect," Andrews says. "We have not had any reports of reproduction in the wild."

Though theoretically possible, he finds the notion of multiple mountain lions unbelievable.

"I am just so hesitant. In my own mind I just don't think it's possible," Andrews says. "And I know that's going to make that lady very upset. And her family."

Tom Smock started the sensation in Dunkerton last week after noticing three paw prints near Crane Creek. Andrews on Thursday said a photo of the impression most likely was made by a mountain lion.

Two other neighbors, Jack Lienau and his 15-year-old daughter, believe they saw a big cat around Christmas. Their sighting was in the same location as Sue Hauptly's.

Smock lives less than a mile away and has seen the video. He firmly believes it strengthens the case.

"When I saw that, I said, 'Oh, wow,'" Smock says.

And that's where the mystery stands. A hard-core doubting Thomas won't be swayed. Those who already accept the possibility continue to believe.

"I've been hoping that I'd see it again," Sue Hauptly says.

"I've got my binoculars. I've got my camera. And I know how to run the video camera. I'm ready now."

Contact Dennis Magee at (319) 291-1451 or dennis.magee@wcfcourier.com.

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