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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, October 23, 2003

Trapping expert's plan is to snare big cat

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

OLINDA, Maui — More sightings of the mysterious Maui cat were reported as wildlife officials prepared to undergo training in live-capture snaring techniques.

Arizona trapping expert Stan Cunningham was expected to arrive late yesterday and, over the next week, conduct training and help place foot-hold snare traps on private property in and around the wooded slopes of the rural Olinda area.

"Every effort will be made to bring this animal in alive and harm-free," said Peter T. Young, chairman of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, in a statement yesterday. "However, we recognize there is a possibility that, if human life and safety is threatened, the animal may have to be destroyed."

The plan, he said, is to place foot-hold snares in travel lanes and other areas frequented by the unidentified big cat and check the traps twice daily. If snared, the animal will be sedated and sent to the Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo in Hilo.

The most recent sightings of the big cat occurred Oct. 8, 10 and 11, officials said.

"A very large, black, long-tailed cat" was seen Oct. 8 at about 10:30 p.m. and Oct.10 at 7:30 a.m., according to DLNR spokesperson Deborah Ward.

On Oct. 11, wildlife officials obtained a clear set of tracks in moist soil, Ward said. That same day, she said, two people were awakened by the creature as it called loudly — three times — about 30 to 40 feet from their house.

Cunningham is a research biologist with the Arizona Department of Game and Fish who has captured bears, mountain lions and bobcats with traps and foothold snares.

He is a colleague of Bill Van Pelt, the Arizona big-cat expert who visited Maui in August and concluded that the cat is either a leopard, jaguar or mountain lion. Officials believe the animal was once an illegal pet that either escaped or was set free.

Van Pelt said it may be possible for the animal to live for a long time in a small but rugged geographic area such as Olinda without being seen as long as it can find food and water and a place to hide.

Reach Timothy Hurley at thurley@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 244-4880.