Big-cat trapper coming to Maui
KAHULUI, Maui — In a move to jump-start the hunt for the elusive big cat of Olinda, state officials are bringing to Maui a big-game trapping expert to show wildlife employees here how it's done.
Stan Cunningham, a wildlife biologist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, is expected to visit for a week starting Oct. 22. His primary mission is to instruct Maui wildlife officials in the methods of setting foothold snare traps for safe, live capture.
Wildlife officials believe a big cat — probably a leopard, jaguar or mountain lion illegally brought into the state as a pet and released into the wild — has been prowling in and about the rugged gulches of Olinda since at least December.
Residents have reported numerous sightings and animal calls in the night, and authorities have found paw prints and other tell-tale evidence. But so far, no trained wildlife expert has actually seen the big cat.
Officials yesterday said the last credible sighting occurred Sept. 25, when two women reported seeing a big cat 7 feet away from their car at 8:50 p.m. They described the animal as about 7 feet long with a long tail, black coat, yellow-green eyes, a flat face and small ears.
A state wildlife official responded to the call within 40 minutes and spent an hour and a half searching the area with infrared equipment. Although no cat was spotted, animals in a pasture were seen grouped closely together, indicating the possible presence of an animal intruder, officials said.
Meanwhile, the state is still awaiting the results of DNA analysis of a fur sample collected in one of the Olinda gulches where the big cat was seen. The analysis is being done by the Arizona Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit as a courtesy to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Results were originally expected several weeks ago, but the fur sample apparently didn't include the roots of the hairs, the best part for determining the source. So the sample is undergoing further analysis.
Cunningham, a researcher who has studied bears and lions for more than a decade, is a colleague of Bill Van Pelt, the big-cat expert from Arizona who visited Maui in August.