Joe Rowland looks at a sand trap he said Game and Inland Fisheries officials set in July on his Craigsville property to try to capture prints of a loose lion.


Big cat tales run wild in Craigsville
Man claims to have taken lion's photo

08/09/04 - The News Leader

CRAIGSVILLE -- Buzz at the IGA is that a cougar is hunting in the corn fields. In town, folks are saying they've seen a lion lurking at the edge of the National Forest.

Rumors are spreading in Craigsville that a big cat -- no one seems sure what kind -- is on the loose.

It all started when Joe Rowland rolled into his driveway off Augusta Springs Road after a trip to town. He scanned the yard for wildlife, as he always does. Deer sometimes graze between the hay bales; rabbits often skip into the flower beds.

On July 19, Rowland saw a lump of tan fur in a low place, and initially took it to be a deer. But as he got closer, he saw it was a big cat. Exclaiming, "Oh my God!," he darted into his house for a digital camera. He tip-toed into the field, getting about 60 feet from the beast, when it raised its head and looked straight at him.

As the beast took three leaps into the protection of the corn field, Rowland took a big step backwards and raised his camera above his head.

In the house, he quickly printed a picture for his friend Roy Thompson, who checks game at the IGA. There, the pair hovered over the copier machine, peering at blown up images and comparing them with the store's collection of mounts. It looked too pale to be a bobcat, and too feline for a small bear. Could it be a mountain lion?, Rowland wondered.

The next morning, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries officials paid Rowland a visit. They laid a sand trap, set up a surveillance camera and interviewed other town residents.

Marcus Hubbard was leaving the IGA check-out Sunday when he asked manager Thompson if there was any more word on the lion.

"From the looks of the face of it, I believe it is a lion. I honestly believe it is a lion," Hubbard said about a picture kept on the store copy machine with other snapshots of local children.

Mark Harmon said he was driving to work last week when he spotted a cat with a tufted tail rolling in an open field in Showker's Flats. He slowed to 25 mph to catch a glimpse.

"I'm pretty sure I saw a cougar," Harmon said, describing a 6-foot-long cat with a 3-foot-long tail. "It was huge."

Despite rumors of an African lion being loose, no livestock had been reported killed by a wild animal.

Al Borgueouis, a wildlife biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries said he is pretty sure the now-mythic creature is neither an African or mountain lion.

Mountain lions have been extirpated from the commonwealth, and were classified as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1973, according to the department's Web site. Small populations exist in the Smoky Mountain National Park and the Carolinas, according to the Web site.

"To a lot of people in that area it could look like an African lion (in the photo), but when you start putting things together like the height of the grass, etc., it points to a smaller animal," Borgueouis said. Game officials measured the grass, finding that it was between 6 and 8 inches. In Rowland's photograph, grass brushes the bottom of the cat's belly.

Rowland e-mailed low-quality photos to The News Leader, but said he had deleted his camera's memory stick and given a floppy disk of images to game officials.

On Sunday, Rowland was impatient for game officials to pick up a full roll of film from a motion-sensitive surveillance camera. He had even volunteered to drive it to Wal-Mart for processing.

"Nothing has been confirmed yet," Borgeouis said, "But people are catching glimpses here and there."


Joe Rowland's photograph.


Craigsville's mystery animal slinks into myth
Big cat search terminated

08/18/04 - The News Leader

CRAIGSVILLE -- No one has seen the big cat in 10 days.

Maybe it has moved on, or maybe it settled in Showker's Flats.

Craigsville residents are still talking about the big cat Joe Rowland spotted on his property July 19, but no one has seen it lately.

Exposed film taken this week from motion-sensitive cameras on Rowland's 70-acre property documented groundhogs, deer and rabbits, but no felines, said Capt. Mike Clark with Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. His agency had installed two cameras on Rowland's property to help identify the cat, but had removed them both Tuesday.

A picture shot by Rowland left something to be desired, said Al Borgeouis, a wildlife biologist with the agency. Borgeouis said he didn't believe the low resolution digital photo was a hoax, but said he was certain the beast wasn't a mountain lion.

Mountain lions have been extirpated from the Commonwealth and were classified as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1973, according to the department's Web site. Small populations exist in the Smoky Mountain National Park and the Carolinas, according to the Web site.

Long-time residents of the mountains bordering the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests in Virginia say cats have always been here.

Marcus Hubbard, born and raised in Craigsville, said he wouldn't be surprised if there was more than one big cat wandering around. "They're in Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, so why not Virginia?" he asked.

Rumors initially spread of a loose, pet African lion but no livestock was reported missing, and game officials had heard no reports of missing jungle cats.

Borgeouis said he believed the mystery animal was a bobcat. He estimated it was a smaller animal, based upon measurements game officials took of 6-inch to 8-inch tall grass near the spot the cat was sighted and the appearance of the animal in Rowland's photograph.

Roy Thompson, game-checker and IGA manager, saved a copy of Rowland's picture in his store and showed it to friends who stopped by the store. Above the copier, a stuffed bobcat snarled and raised a vicious claw. The tips of its ears are dotted black and the fur on its shoulders was darker than the rest.

Thompson pointed out that Rowland's picture showed a mostly tawny animal with no large dark streaks.

"I think it was just a big mountain lion," Rowland said.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries had not documented anything Tuesday about the animal's identity, staff said.

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