Greenbrier County officials are scouring the woods near Cold Knob after receiving multiple reports that a lion — an African lion, not the mountain variety — is on the loose.

“We’re treating this pretty seriously,” said Robert McClung, the county’s senior animal-control officer. “Right now, we’re trying to confirm the initial report. Once we do that, we’ll figure out what we’re going to do about it.”

A local hunter, 72-year-old Jim Shortridge of Frankfort, was bowhunting for deer Oct. 17 when the lion reportedly approached him.

“I watched it for more than 40 minutes,” said Shortridge, who owns the parcel of land he was hunting on. “I watched it from my vehicle and from my hunting blind.”

Shortridge first saw the creature as he carried a cooler and his lunch from a vehicle to the 6-by-8 foot wooden blind.

“When I first saw [the lion], I thought it was a deer,” Shortridge said. “Then it growled at me.”

The cat ran away after Shortridge yelled at it. Convinced that the potential threat had disappeared, the slightly shaken hunter returned to his vehicle and retrieved his bow. Shortly after he began hunting, the creature came back.

“It paced back and forth, in front of the blind, about 10 yards away,” Shortridge recalled. “I sat and watched him. I kept shining my light into his eyes. The more I put the light on him, the louder he growled.”

Shortridge remains convinced that the animal was a male African lion. He estimated its weight at 250 to 350 pounds.

“It had a mane, so I could tell it was a male. And I’m sure it wasn’t a bear. Bears are all over Cold Knob. I see six to eight of them every time I go hunting, and I can tell the difference. Bears don’t shake me up at all. This lion made me pretty nervous,” he said.

After Shortridge returned home from his hunt, he reported the sighting to a Division of Natural Resources official. “The person I talked to said mine was the second report they’d gotten about the lion,” he said.

Curtis Taylor, the DNR’s Wildlife Resources chief, confirmed that his agency received the reports.

“It has been reported twice now,” Taylor said. “It’s not outside the realm of possibility [for it to really be a lion], mainly because people keep as pets a lot of animals that shouldn’t be kept as pets. When they get too big, too expensive or too dangerous, those people start looking for [remote] places to get rid of them.”

For years, DNR officials have contended that most if not all of West Virginia’s mountain-lion sightings have been of animals abandoned by their owners. Animal-control officer McClung believes that if the Cold Knob lion actually exists, someone probably turned it out.

“Either that, or it escaped from a pen someplace,” McClung said.

The Tiger Mountain Refuge, located more than 20 miles away in Nicholas County, houses abandoned big cats. Refuge owner John Forga said the lion didn’t come from his facility.

“No, it’s not one of ours,” he said. “I’ve been in contact with everyone I know, and no one reports a lion on the loose.”

Forga visited the Cold Knob site earlier this week with Shortridge. The two baited the area with chicken carcasses in an attempt to keep the lion in the area. McClung said he would visit the site today to install motion-triggered cameras capable of making photographs at night.

“We want to confirm what it is we’re dealing with. If we confirm that it is a lion, then we’ll ask the DNR to loan us a trap to catch it,” McClung said.

The DNR routinely uses large culvert-style traps to catch nuisance bears. The bears crawl into large sections of steel pipe to get at some bait. When they touch the bait, the traps’ hinged doors slam shut.

“If there is a lion and we catch it, we’ll try to move it without harming it,” McClung added.

Forga said that if the creature turns out to be an African lion, he would ask that it be moved to the Tiger Mountain Refuge. “We’re the only facility in the state that’s equipped to handle it,” he said.

taken from:  The Charleston Daily Mail.. Please visit their site!