This website is prepared to inform the Maui community and news media of the current status of information gathering and planning for safe capture of a large cat believed to have escaped or been released in the Olinda area of Maui. It will be updated regularly as new information is available. (prepared by Dept. of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife)
State wildlife officials on the island of Maui are now developing a plan for the safe and live capture of the mystery "big cat' which has been reported at large in wooded and rugged gulches of Olinda, a rural upcountry community. The first report of a sighting was made in December 2002 and, continuing on a regular basis to the present date.
A critical component of this safe capture plan under development by the Department of Land and Natural Resources is to obtain valid and current data and reports from the public of Olinda on the specific location of this cat, thought to be either a leopard, jaguar or mountain lion.
Although physical evidence has been difficult to obtain, these 3 species are considered the most likely types of large cat, in the opinion of an Arizona expert who was brought over in early August for assistance. Bill Van Pelt, of the State of Arizona Game and Fish Department worked with Hawaii wildlife staff and the cooperating Maui Invasive Species Committee (MISC) to review report data, conduct interviews with individuals who had seen the cat, and conduct field searches in the Olinda gulches for physical evidence. He also provided training in search and capture methods and advised on use of technologies for detection.
Van Pelt has been a biologist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department for 12 years. His specialty is mammals, especially large predators such as cats and wolves. For the past several years, he has served as the non-game mammals program manager. He is a member of the Jaguar Conservation Team, Ocelot Recovery Team and the Mexican Wolf Project.
The public is urged to assist DLNR by calling in reports promptly to the Division of Forestry and Wildlife at (808) 873-3502. After hours or when you do not reach a person promptly call, the Maui County Police Department (call 244-6400 use the non-emergency line, please).
Please provide details such as:
Description of the cat & it's activity
Sounds made (if any)
Any other observations
If the cat is seen more than once in a day call in each sighting...this will help us to know its movements, and ultimately help us to capture it.
Signs that have been reported of the mystery cat's presence include pawprints, scratch marks on trees, calling at night heard by area residents, consumed bird carcasses and a fresh deer kill that was typical of large-cat predation. Hair samples retrieved will be analyzed by the University of Arizona and will hopefully identify which species of cat lurks in the woods. This data may also assist in planning for correct tranquilization techniques in the event of the capture.
The wildlife search team has used night vision equipment while "calling” the animal with a recording of jaguar sounds played through a megaphone. Scent-rub stations were also set up in areas where the cat had been spotted. These stations contain felid urine from African Serval cats provided by the Honolulu zoo as an attractant. An animal sniffing and rubbing the station to leave its own scent would leave behind a hair sample which can then be used to help identify the type of cat.
For reasons of public safety and for the welfare of the animal, DLNR considers finding and safe capture of this animal to be a necessary and humane priority.
Large cats are not a part of the natural environment in Hawaii and are prohibited as pets. Many prohibited animals are brought to Hawaii each year innocently, or not, and often end up escaping or being released by their owners.
The State of Hawaii spends hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars each year chasing down plants and animals illegally brought to Hawaii and then released into the environment.
Invasive alien species is the single most important issue threatening the natural environment of Hawaii and our natural resources such as watersheds, fragile ecosystems, and native plants and animals
We ask your cooperation:
· Please never bring animals to Hawaii that are not approved by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. Also For a complete list visit: www.hawaiiag.org/hdoa/adminrules.htm
· Never release a pet into the natural environment
· Make sure that all pets are properly contained so there is little chance they could escape.
· Don’t plant a pest in Hawaii. For a list of plant pests visit: www.hear.org
We are all responsible for the health and safety of our shared environment, please kokua.
Common sense safety tips for Olinda residents
DLNR recommends Olinda residents remain calm, but to be aware of their surroundings when outdoors. So far, the animal has not shown signs of aggressiveness and runs away when startled by a human. Here are some common-sense recommendations that can be followed;
Safe capture plan elements & capture methods:
Specific planning for the safe capture of the cat is still ongoing; Thus far, DLNR has placed motion sensor and infra-red cameras at locations where the cat has frequented, and where it is likely to return to. Box-traps will also be deployed again, although the chance that they will capture the cat may be small. Additional scent-rub stations and track-collecting stations have also been/are still being set out where the cat had been previously sighted. All of this will allow us to find the best place to set foot-hold snares. These snares are traps regularly and preferentially used to capture both mountain lions and jaguars safely (to enable radio collars to be attached without harming the animal.) Such foot-holds would be monitored very frequently and when the animal is caught, it will be sedated, under veterinary oversight, and placed into a transport cage for shipment to the Panaewa Zoo (which has already agreed to accept it).
Recent sightings reported
Month of September 2003
Thursday, Sept. 25
People driving on a road in Olinda just a quarter-mile downslope of the previous day's sighting, saw the animal crossing the road at about 5:30 a.m. They turned around and went back where again saw the animal.
That same evening, at about 8:50 p.m., in the very same location, the cat crossed the road going the opposite direction. Two women passing in a car saw it from about 7 feet away. The described seeing an animal about 7 feet long with a long tail, black coat and yellow green eyes, a flat face and ears not prominent. A DLNR wildlife official responded to the call within 40 minutes and spent the next hour and a half searching the area with infrared equpment. Although no cat was spotted, nor any wild deer, animals in a pasture we seen grouped closely together.
Division of Forestry and Wildlife personnel were to go out Friday night Sept. 26 with infrared night vision equpment to check the area again for signs of the animal's presence.
Wednesday, Sept. 24
Three people who had seen the cat before saw it at 4 p.m. for about three minutes as it walked down a pasture fence. This was considered a good sighting as they were able to provide a clear description and size of the animal.
Friday, Sept. 19 and Monday, Sept. 22
Four people who live near where an animal has been seen or heard in past months, again heard an animal calling, about 9 p.m. and dogs barking in response. On Sept. 20, the animal appeared to return in the evening to a house where it had been before. The animal again ate food left outdoors for it and neighborhood cats, and sprayed the lanai.
MYSTERY ANIMAL REPORTED IN MORE ISOLATED GULCH BY HIKER
The last reported sighting of the elusive Maui mystery cat appears to have taken place on Sunday morning, Sept. 14 in a large, isolated forested gulch more south and mauka of previously reported sightings.
A regular hiker in that area, with his two dogs reported to Maui Police Department that about 8:30 a.m. that day he looked into the gulch and saw a black animal, which on seeing him, ran away into the gulch. He could not see its head or tail from a distance of about 125 feet as it ran between trees, but reported it had a "bounding cat-like gait," " It was unlike pigs his dogs often chase.
His two small dogs did give chase, but returned, unharmed, 15 minutes later to his calls. State forestry officials were unable to conduct a field search for tracks or other clues to verify the sighting as the hiker could not give a precise location of the sighting.
Since that time no new sightings have been reported to authorities, who continue to believe there is a big cat on the loose.
Maui residents are urged to be alert and attentive, and to immediately report all sightings or unusual events to DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife at (808) 873-3502 or, if no person answers, to Maui Police Dispatch. Residents are urged to exercise caution for themselves, family, livestock and pets. Information about the search for the mystery cat, and safety tips can be found on the DLNR web page at: http://www.state.hi.us/dlnr/dofaw/wild/index.htm
DLNR is still awaiting the results of a DNA analysis of a sample of fur collected in one of the Olinda gulches where the big cat was reported seen. The analysis is being done at no charge, by the Arizona Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit as a courtesy to DLNR.
Identification of a species
of big cat will assist DLNR in its planning for a safe capture effort. Current
plans include bringing in a technician from the Arizona Game and Fish Department
to instruct state wilddlife personnel in methods of setting foothold snares
for live safe capture.
Personnel from Division of Forestry and Wildlife and Maui Invasive Species Committee met to review current situation and next steps, which may include inviting a technician with experience in setting and using live-capture foothold snares to capture big-cats to come and train Hawaii personnel in these techniques. The State is continuing with full-scale monitoring of the cat's movements, and is now proceeding with safe-capture planning including both intensive on the ground sweeps of Olinda area gulches, remote evidence gathering, and subsequently, follow-up lure and trapping to actually capture the animal safely with foot-hold type snares.
Sunday, 9/7 1-1:30 a.m.
Pet black Labrador attacked on its property in Olinda. Owner responded to dog's yelp, did not at first notice extent of injuries. Next day owner took dog to an upcountry veterinarian where some of the wounds required stitches.
Division of Forestry and
Wildlife is relocating its infrared camera to a new area with recent activity.
Thursday 9/4 1-1:15 a.m.
Cat heard at private residence in Olinda. Residents heard an animal outside making noises while apparently feeding, as the owner's dog barked, and house cat acted strangely. Owners were trying to lure the big-cat in, with cat food in a pot. In the morning the pot of feed was found more than half-eaten. Owners have now installed their own infrared camera near the food pot; they have cooperatively agreed to continue to try and lure the cat there, so it may be captured.
Wednesday, 9/3 5:10 p.m.
A large long-tailed cat, was seen going up a swale as driver passed the nearby pastures. Driver contacted police, who contacted DLNR the next morning 9/4. DOFAW went to the site on 9/4,and met with the observer obtaining a first-hand report. DOFAW did not find any tracks or other physical evidence. This is considered a possible to probable sighting, based on location and other information on the cat's whereabouts at that time period.
Month of August 2003
8/28/2003: 5:55 pm
Dark-brown big-cat larger than german-sheperd dog seen stalking 100' away. Person calls wife, who also sees, and makes 3 photos of cat. Cat runs off after noting either sound of camera or seeing its flashes. Woman reports cat looked at her at flashes of camera.
Excellent descriptions by 2 people based on a 3-4 minute observation. Animal was in the general area of an earlier deer kill, approx. 50' from that location. Photos shot from within the house using flash did not come out, they were obliterated by the screen door. This is considered a good sighting.
8/26/2003 9:37 pm
Residents reported loud thump on garage roof or lanai. At 9:37 pm, two persons step out to observe Mars onto an unlit lanai and a large animal leaps off and bangs into fence as it goes over the fence. A dog pursues the animal to the fence, other (penned)dog barking loudly. Persons called in the report the next morning that he found tracks and cat fur at the site.
A site visit by DOFAW staff verified the presence of tracks. The DOFAW staff also found evidence of possible scent marking by the animal - spraying of urine 36" off ground at the lanai. A photo was taken. The big-cat could have been attracted to: freshly rotting Marlin tails nailed onto garage, pet feeding places on the lanai and in the garage, and the remains of a deer carcass nearby. This is a verified sighting and the 3rd good sighting at this particular location since February (February, March, August).
8/22/2003 5:45 pm
2 of 3 children playing heard motion then observed big black cat which crept away into steep gulch. 3.5-4.0' long thick tail. Location near to pig pen.
A site visit by DOFAW staff located fresh tracks where the sighting occurred. This is a verified sighting.
General location: Ranch Lands Makawao-Olinda where March sightings had occurred.
Description: Big-cat observed stalking deer
Response: Observer calls MPD, and Fern Duvall (FD), FD arrives 18:05 on-site. Observer able to provide good details, and location specifics. FD (DOFAW) and Erik (MISC) site-search 18:30 -20:30 in failing light, and with spot-lights. No contact made. Care taken to not obliterate areas with possible tracks.
FD and CL (DOFAW) perform a site-search 10:00-12:00, located and traced outlines of paw prints in a track at exact site cat observed. Did preliminary/partial gulch search. Planned and obtained permission for a thorough site-search with 7 persons for 08-22-03. Permission obtained for placement of a new scent-rub station in gulch.
Other: No infrared or motion sensor photo/incidents on 08-21-03, 2 scent-rub stations checked.
Month of August 2003
Box traps set up (#, general location)
Only very fine, light-colored hair samples were collected from scent-rub stations,these all appear to be from a short-haired domestic cats. Domestic feral cat tracks were also found in the tracking stations associated with the scent-rub stations.
Date: 8/26/2003 9:37 pm
Description: found tracks and cat fur at the site. DOFAW staff also found evidence of possible scent marking by the animal - spraying of urine 36" off ground at the lanai.
General location: Olinda area
Date: 8/22/2003 5:45 pm
Description: A site visit by DOFAW staff located fresh tracks where the sighting occurred.
Description: Outlines of 2 paw prints
General location: Makawao-Olinda Ranch lands
Date of collection:
Description and analysis (when obtained)
As of (8/19/03)
8/13/03 - Jaguar, Leopard or Mountain Lion