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Mountain lion sightings continue in northwest Iowa

SIBLEY, Iowa -- Residents of Osceola County have been watching their outdoor surroundings a little more closely in recent weeks after a pair of reported mountain lion sightings near the community of Sibley.

"They've mostly been south and east of Sibley -- not that far out of town," said Osceola County Chief Deputy Kevin Wollmuth of the reported sightings.

The sightings, although quite unusual, have become a little more common in southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa, often the result of young males getting pushed out of South Dakota's Black Hills by the more dominant males. Prior to the reports in Osceola County, the last confirmed sighting was in Jackson County, where a mountain lion was shot to death in late November.

Wollmuth is well aware of that case, where the shooters were actually fined for killing the large cat. In Iowa, it isn't illegal to shoot a mountain lion.

Still, he said local law enforcement wouldn't want to go to those extremes unless the mountain lion was deemed a danger to human life or a pet. So far, no one has reported any losses of livestock or pets in Osceola County, he said.

As a result of the mountain lion sightings, the sheriff's office has been in contact with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources on several occasions. They even emailed a photo taken by Sheriff's Lieutenant Seth Hofman of the mountain lion's paw print for confirmation.

"We had one of the conservation guys look at it, and he said it was definitely a big cat," Wollmuth said.

Yet, other DNR officials weren't too quick to confirm the source of the print. Hofman said he was told it could also be the paw print of a large dog or a bobcat. Hofman said the print lacked toenail impressions, which would be evident if it was indeed a large dog.

"It could be a small, male mountain lion," Hofman said. "Mountain lion prints are equal to Bigfoot around here -- you see one, but no one confirms it. It's possible that's what you saw."

Wollmuth admitted the sheriff's office is not familiar with mountain lions and, as a result, he and others in the department have been reading up on their habits.

"If you do your research on them, don't take off running from them -- appear larger than them," Wollmuth said. "They're a pretty private animal from what I understand."

The first reported sighting was a little more than two weeks ago, when a woman walking along a county blacktop road outside of town one morning spotted what she thought was a mountain lion on the abandoned railroad tracks. She didn't have a cellphone with her, and didn't contact law enforcement until after first calling her husband.

From that report, Hofman was able to find the paw print and photograph it with a shotgun shell to provide some scale for the size of the print.

The second report came than a week later, and that time it was spotted toward evening as it crossed a road in front of a vehicle.

"I would assume that it's probably the same one," Wollmuth said. "Where the two spottings were, they weren't that far apart from each other."

Just a couple of days ago, however, someone spotted what was thought to be a mountain lion eating a Canada goose along a road near Harris. That report, however, was never filed with law enforcement, and could not be confirmed by the Daily Globe.

Hofman said the sheriff's office discussed trying to bait the mountain lion with fresh meat so it could be captured, but the thought is they would probably catch a coyote before they'd catch the big cat.