Posted by: Loren Coleman on July 23rd, 2008
Cryptozoology author Matt Bille, who found himself in the middle of a firestorm of “African lion” sightings in his hometown, was interviewed by the local media.
On July 22, 2008, The Colorado Springs Gazette published an article about the Colorado Springs “lion.” In it they quoted Matt Bille.
Or, should I say, misquoted him? Bille has emailed me that he “did not say the last half of the last sentence about making no rational sense.”
Wildlife officials had a few things to say about the misquotations in the unfolding of this story too.
Here is the article Bille sends along:
Imagination – or an animal – is on the loose
July 22, 2008 – 4:03PM
by Brian Hughes The Gazette
An African lion, or some other large feline predator, is loose east of Colorado Springs. Or maybe the only thing that’s loose is tongues and what’s roaming the plains is a lot of rumors and conspiracy theories.
Either way, last week’s massive daylong search for what was reported to be an escaped lion near Calhan could be the birth of a local Bigfoot-style legend.
Residents toted six-shooters and rode the range ready to lasso the beast, while police helicopters circled overhead trying to spot it.
They found nothing, except a paw print that may or may not have been positively identified as that of an African lion.
The only proof of its existence is a blurry photograph of a large, maned – or possibly just shaggy – four-legged animal with a long tail looking back over its shoulder as it heads over a rise on the prairie never to be seen again.
But not forgotten.
In the week since, the lines have been drawn between those who want rational explanations and those who say there are things – and beasts – out there which defy explanation.
Wildlife experts, who say they were misquoted in identifying the paw print as an African lion’s, are solidly on the side of the myth busters.
“If there were a lion of that size, it would have been spotted,” said Michael Seraphin, spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Sharon Harding-Shaw, who snapped the photo of the creature, is just as sure she saw a lion.
“I know what I saw,” she said. “I’m 100 percent that was a lion.”
Not only was it a lion, she said this week, but she heard it was captured at Big R, an agricultural supply store off U.S. Highway 24 in Peyton.
That rumor’s been spreading; the El Paso County Sheriff ‘s Office has been fielding calls wanting details of how the lion was caught, sheriff ‘s Lt. Lari Sevene said.
Big R manager Ken Bachmann said he didn’t know about any lion prowling the premises: “Believe me, the employees would’ve had a lot more to talk about if that were true.”
Since no lion, or even a stray dog, was found, Seraphin said it’s possible the owner of an illegally kept exotic animal recaptured it and was reluctant to report it.
But the paw print, which convinced some searchers they were hunting a lion, could have been there for days and could have been just about any animal. Seraphin said it had been run over repeatedly by vehicles and was unidentifiable.
Another theory is the lion may have just gone home – to West Virginia, not the nearby big cat sanctuary, which wasn’t missing any of its lions, according to the owner, who helped search.
In October, a hunter reported seeing an African lion in Lewisburg, W.Va. Wildlife officials tried in vain to catch a glimpse of the animal with a video camera, according to the Charleston Daily Mail.
The similarities between the El Paso County lion and West Virginia’s are eerie.
The lion was sighted, then vanished, and there was a nearby animal sanctuary. As with Big Cats of Serenity Springs outside Calhan, the West Virginia haven didn’t have any AWOL lions.
Rich Buhler, who runs TruthOrFiction.com, a Web site devoted to debunking popular myths, said the El Paso County lion could become another Bigfoot – just with a tail and four legs.
“It’s your classic story of a menacing force out of place in suburbia,” he said. “Some of the most energetic rumors are those that appeal to lack of safety. Those are the perfect ingredients of an urban legend.”
On his Web site, it would be designated as unproven, making it fodder for forwarded e-mails and those looking for a juicy ice breaker in conversation.
Matt Bille, a local science author who dabbles in cryptozoology, said he likes the mystery surrounding the El Paso County lion.
He said that if it was a large dog, it mostly likely would have been reported missing by its owner.
Because nothing was found, Bille predicted future sightings.
“It’s a good thing to have an element of mystery,” he said. “It keeps us searching for the undefinable and leads us to discoveries that make no rational sense.”