Okay. I will admit it. My wife and I are into cats. Big ones or little ones, it doesn’t matter. We have four in our house, and one in my office. We have a small colony of ferals that we feed in the yard. I have a cat in my lap as I write this. We haven’t quite reached the level of “crazy cat people” yet. But that is a line that we are well aware of, and we try our best not to step over to the other side.
We like dogs too, but we don’t own any. We have always had fun with our neighbor’s dog in Monteverde. She is a bouncy golden short hair lab. She comes to visit, and hang out in our kitchen. When Melissa is cooking, “Lady” will beg for a taste. Or she will keep me company while I handle minor repairs outside. She has always been part of our Monteverde experience. Just a big old sweet dog.
During one trip, we didn’t see Lady at all. We heard her barking a couple of times, but she never stopped by. One night, we were coming in from dinner with friends. We have some small lights along the walkway from the driveway. When we flipped them on, we saw Lady lying in the shadows near the forest. Melissa started to talk softly to her, and walked over to give her a little scratch. She got about fifteen feet away when Lady raised her head and looked at her. Then she got up, and walked into the woods.
Melissa called to her, and then came back to where I was standing. She was puzzled as to why Lady was being so standoffish. After all, she was very friendly and usually glad to see us. But we also noticed something. Lady didn’t “bounce” away like a Lab. She slunk away. Like a big cat. A really big cat. I felt a chill, and we hurried inside.
Our friend Holger stopped by for coffee the next morning. He is also our sometime carpenter and a guide in one of the local reserves. We told him our story, and together we walked over to the area of the yard where “Lady” had been. Puma tracks were everywhere. Holger had no doubt at all. We went down to the road, and found more prints high in the soft earthen berm where it had crossed over. Yep. My bride had tried to pet a mountain lion!
This is a very rare sighting in Monteverde. The woods are dense enough to support some other big cats. One night, we heard the sound of a large “something” that sounded like a child screaming in pain. Friends said that this was probably a large cat. We didn’t see it. To be honest, we didn’t want to look for it. It was a little spooky! We have also encountered a Jaguarundi on the bridges at Selvatura. This is a much smaller, kinda ugly cat that has an almost weasel like look.
But we had never seen something this big. A large predator like this needs a lot of territory. Over the last few years, the local conservation groups have been buying up land to protect existing “biological corridors” and create new ones. They do this so that animals can move around, and keep the gene pools diverse. If they are confined to a small area, in-breeding will eventually doom an isolated population. Holger speculated that our visitor might have been a young male passing through, looking for love. There had been a strong cat urine odor outside the evening before. I had just assumed it was a local tom marking his territory. Now, I am not so sure.
We visited our neighbors. We wanted to let them know what we had seen, and to make sure they kept Lady in for a day or two. They were understandably a little skeptical. Their daughter said that she wished she could have seen it. She had never seen a big wild cat before. We were very glad that our friend Holger stopped by, and was able to verify our sighting. We were not just dumb gringos mistaking something else for a big cat. This was the real deal. And now Melissa has a great story to tell. The night she tried to pet the lion!
I think she is taking this whole cat thing to the extreme.