Posted by: Loren Coleman on October 26th, 2007
The fossil replica of the giant skull of Panthera atrox, the recently extinct American lion, the massive lion of the Pleistocene. It was probably maned. From Rancho La Brea Tar Pits. Photo: Baystatereplicas.com.
On Friday, October 26, 2007, and the day before, the West Virginia Metro News, a radio service out of Charleston, broadcast followups to the recent reports of a “full-grown, male African lion.”
Here are their two news items:
Trout, W. Va. – Jim Shortridge has been hunting his entire life and says he knows what he saw.
“A lot of people doesn’t believe it, but it doesn’t really matter to me. I know what I saw and I’m not lying,” Shortridge told MetroNews Talkline Friday.
What he claims to have seen is a full-grown, male African lion. The king of the Jungle was parading back and forth in front of his homemade deer hunting blind on his property in Greenbrier County.
Shortridge has told his story to several people and a number of news outlets have picked up on it this week. Apparently, he’s not alone.
“When I called DNR last Wednesday, they said I was the second caller that had called that day about his lion,” he said.
Shortridge said he walked to his hunting shack to prepare for a day of bow hunting and initially thought it was a deer, until it growled at him. He said the lion soon bolted when he yelled and although he was amazed, he didn’t think much more about it, until he returned from a second trip to his truck to pick up his bow.
“I picked the bow up and started walking toward the blind, and he started growling at me again, and I said, ‘Lord, I should have just gotten in my truck and stayed there,’” he said.
Shortridge said he watched the animal pacing back and forth growling and “puffing” at him in an aggressive and threatening manner. He admits he was starting to get nervous, before the lion finally decided to move along.
Some speculate the lion may have been an exotic pet who simply escaped or got too big for the owner to handle and was turned loose.
Shortridge said he hopes animal control officials can capture the animal and get him into a place where he’ll be protected. He and officials from the DNR and DEP are returning to his hunting area this weekend to put out more bait and set up motion sensitive cameras in hopes of catching some photographic evidence of the lion. “Witness Talks About Lion Sighting,” WV Metro News, October 26, 2007.
John Forga was not that surprised to hear there might be an adult male African lion roaming the mountains of Greenbrier County.
Forga and his wife, Carol, operate the Tiger Mountain Refuge near Rainelle where exotic animals often end up. The non-profit operation provides a safe, permanent habitat for the animals.
If the couple happens to track down and catch the lion that local hunter Jim Shortridge says he saw scouting for deer near Cold Knob last week, the big cat will be added to their growing collection of previously abused, neglected, unwanted or confiscated animals.
The couple has made a home for more than 60 species of exotic animals. Some come from pet stores and zoos that are going out of business. But many are pets that were abandoned or became too much for their owners.
Among the animals are two tigers, a black leopard and 600-pound lion named Alex.
The animals come from all over.
One alligator now at the refuge was found in a creek in Clarksburg. Another was discovered by a security guard near the state Capitol.
A 40-pound turtle was getting too big for the owner to care for. John says it will eventually reach 200 pounds. There is also a 22-foot-long Burmese python that started out as someone’s pet.
John and Carol used to operate a pet store in Summersville. They moved into their current occupation almost by accident. Six years ago they paid $1,700 for a blind African lynx at an auction because another bidder was going to put the animal down and mount it.
They still have the cat, even though it has never warmed to John. “That thing still hates me,” he said.
John, Shortridge and Beckley Register-Herald reporter Chris Giggenbach returned to Cold Knob yesterday hoping to see signs of the lion. They did not, but John left behind 20 pounds of raw chicken while spraying the area with cologne. The scent may pique the lion’s curiosity.
They’ll head back up there soon, perhaps today, with hopes of spotting the lion.
Shortridge, an experienced hunter, estimated the lion to be between 250 and 300 pounds. Forga says that would make it about a year old, but it could be an older lion that has lost weight.
An African lion raised as someone’s pet, then turned lose or escaping into the wild will soon be helpless, John said. The animal has probably had its claws removed and perhaps its fangs as well.
He predicts the lion will not live much beyond the first snowfall.
John and Carol would love to save the lion, just as they have saved dozens of other animals.
Their non-profit business, however, remains unpredictable. Last year they got a pair of endangered skinks (lizards). It’s supposed to be a breeding pair, but Forga says, “It’s been probably a year and a half and nothing yet, no young ones.”
Here’s hoping he has better luck today on his hunting trip.“Hoppy’s Commentary for Thursday,” by Talkline Host Hoppy Kercheval, WV Metro News, October 25, 2007.
The fossil jaw of Panthera atrox can be seen in the left hand of Joseph Leidy in this statue that stands in front of The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania.
For more on the reports of Maned Mystery Cats (are they Panthera atrox, the American Lion?), see Mysterious America.