Did mountain lion attack Pa. farmer?

Posted: October 10, 2008

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is investigating an attack on a southern Lancaster County farmer who believes the culprit was a mountain lion.

The last confirmed case of a mountain lion running wild in the state was in the 1960s, after one escaped from a circus or a menagerie, said Joe Kosack, commission spokesman.

Samuel Fisher was attacked near his home around 6 p.m. yesterday, and was taken to a hospital, Kosack said.

The commission had been getting eyewitness reports of three big cats. "A black one, a brown one and a tan one may have been roaming the area together," Kosack said.

Fisher reported seeing two big cats, shooting at one and wounding it. "While he was trailing it, he claims one of the animals attacked," Kosack said.

The Sadsbury Township farmer said it was a mountain lion that leaped from a tree onto his back, a neighbor told the Intelligencer Journal. When the animals began to claw his chest, he stabbed the cat with a knife and it ran off, the newspaper reported.

As of early this afternoon, however, commission officers have been unable to find any evidence of mountain lions in the area.

After smoothing out some ground, the officers left the carcass of a deer killed on a road, hoping to at least detect pawprints.

"They're down there trying to sort out what happened," Kosack said. "... We're not saying these people aren't seeing something. But we don't know what they are seeing."

Wild bobcats live in Pennsylvania, but even big ones weigh only about 30 pounds, and they're generally found in mountainous areas, not Lancaster County.

If the animals are mountain lions - also known as cougars, panthers, pumas or catamounts - perhaps they had been exotic pets.

"It's possible that somebody had an escape, or got tired of taking care of something that big," Kosack said.

Wild mountain lions haven't roamed Pennsylvania since the late 1800s, he said. "That's when they became extinct."

Or at least that's the Game Commission's belief.

Some people disagree, Kosack said.

In 2003, a Chester County man shot video in his backyard of what could have been a cougar. (See photo at right.)

Naaman Smoker was from Kennett Square - about 15 miles southeast of Sadsbury Township.

Over the last decades, dozens of other people have also reported seeing cougars in Southeastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Northern Delaware.

In October 2006, a Berlin Borough, Camden County, man snapped a few pictures of a cougar-like cat in a nearby soccer field - a couple of months after a hunter reported seeing two cougars near Wildwood.

Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.

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