Owners: Big cat killed horse

Published 12:00 pm Friday, May 27, 2011

Horses belonging to Robert Bowman graze at his farm north of Oakland Thursday. Authorities are looking into another possible cougar attack that killed one of his foals. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Researcher:Other causes more likely

Several miles outside of Austin, another couple suspects a cougar attack happened after they found one of their horses dead.

Robert Bowman and his wife, who breed horses on a rented property just north of Oakland, discovered one of their five foals dead with a large wound in its neck Thursday morning.

A deputy from the Freeborn County Sheriff’s office, along with the area game warden and an official from the Department of Natural Resources investigated the pasture where the colt was killed. They found no prints or evidence the horse was dragged, although heavy rain on Wednesday could have destroyed that evidence. Game Warden Tom Hutchins confirmed several faded horse tracks and tracks from ATV tires.

Rick Erpelding, DNR assistant area wildlife manager, left, and game warden Tom Hutchins talk to Robert Bowman and neighbor Barbara Day about Bowman's dead foal, which might have been killed by a cougar. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

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Some wonder why the colt was not eaten or dragged away, but Bowman suspects that may have been because he had many other horses and burros in the pasture, and he has seen the burros chase away dogs.

“If the burro would have seen the cat, he might have chased it. That’s my guess,” he said.

Barbara Day, a nearby resident who previously owned horses that were attacked on April 20, seemed more concerned than anyone about the situation. She believes the attack Wednesday is consistent with the last one.

“I think it was a large cat,” she said. “Lets find out what it is. If (officials) don’t want it killed, lets get some professionals out here to track it down and remove it.”

If there is a cougar, Day wants it relocated to a remote area or where they are more common.

Bowman is also convinced a cougar killed his colt. He said he saw one in a tree on the same property about two years ago.

“I’m a hundred percent sure it was there,” he said.

Robert Bowman and his neighbor Barbara Day talk about the possiblity of it being a cougar attack that killed one of Bowman's foals. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Yet if officials confirm a cougar is in the area, they may not remove it. Dan Stark, DNR wolf specialist who also deals with cougars, said the DNR won’t remove a cougar unless it has been a threat to livestock or humans. And although livestock have been hit recently, no evidence proves the work of a big cat.

Once again, officials were hesitant to lean toward a cougar attack. Hutchins said most reported attacks and sightings turn out to be dogs.

“It’s hard to say,” he added.

John Lutz of the Eastern Puma Research Network doesn’t believe the fatality was cougar-related either. He said there’s little chance a cougar, also known as a puma, wouldn’t come back for its prey after killing it. A cougar would have preferred to jump from a high point onto its prey, and would have likely covered the horse with grass and debris, he said. Although Lutz doesn’t think a dog or coyote is a plausible explanation, he said lightning could be responsible, as the area received thunderstorms Wednesday. Lutz said the deep hole in the horse’s neck could be from lightning. The fact that scavengers had already eaten much of the animal in such a short time framed did not surprise him either.

Rick Erpelding, assistant area wildlife manager, looked at the wounds and the area around the horse. He doesn’t believe a dog attacked the horse.

“I’m comfortable with ruling that out,” he said.

However, he couldn’t confirm it was a cougar. Erpelding is waiting for information from wildlife biologists, who will look at the photos and try to determine the cause of the wound.

In the meantime, Bowman may keep his horses in close quarters. But he’s still worried. He can’t keep his colts confined for too long, as they need to run and graze to grow properly. Furthermore, he and his wife are concerned about their profits, as they have vulnerable horses in their pasture.

“It’s a sad deal,” he said.