Cougar Remains Loose After Escaping Rescue Center

Cougar Scaled 14-Foot Fence To Escape

Officials were still searching Monday morning for a 70-pound cougar that apparently scaled a 14-foot fence to escape a western Indiana preserve.

The 8- or 9-year-old tan wildcat, named Donner, escaped the Exotic Feline Rescue Center on Friday and eluded a tracker over the weekend, Max Winchell of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources said Sunday.

The female wildcat was believed to still be on the grounds of the preserve, which sprawls across more than 100 acres and holds nearly 200 exotic cats under a permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It's located about 50 miles west of Indianapolis.

Joe Taft, director of the rescue center, said the cougar may try to stay near the preserve to be near her male sibling, which is still in the cougars' cage.

"I still think she's on the grounds," Taft said Monday.

The cat may pose a threat to anyone who approaches it because, although having been born in the wild, it has been in captivity and may not fear humans, Winchell said.

But Taft said the female cougar avoids people whenever possible because its early experience with people was not good. The cougar and her brother were trapped by authorities in Montana after poachers killed their mother six years ago.

Law enforcement officials asked the public not to go to the area and attempt to view or locate the animal, Winchell said.

Several neighbors are expressing concerns.

"You never know what's going to happen. They don't even know what direction it went in, I don't think," said Evelyn Sutton. "We don't even go out at night."

Taft said Tim Julien, president of the National Wildlife Control Operators Association, will be laying traps for the cougar. The traps are designed to snare the animal without injuring it.

The USDA, while not responsible for the recapture of the cougar, may send additional personnel this week, Winchell said. While illegal to kill protected exotic animals, people have the right to protect themselves and their property if they feel threatened, Winchell said.

State conservation Officers have received numerous reports of sightings of exotic cats over the past two months in Clay, Vigo and Putnam counties, although there have been no other reports of escapes, Winchell said.

"This is the first one," he said.

The rescue center, which also houses lions, tigers and leopards, says its mission is provide homes for exotic felines that have been abused, abandoned or have no where to live out their lives, while also educating the public about them.

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