WINTERSVILLE - An off-duty state wildlife officer Tuesday evening reported seeing what is believed to be a mountain lion near Fernwood State Forest, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources reported.
Mark Bruce, ODNR spokesperson, said, based on this initial report, ODNR is advising the public to be aware of the situation and take extra precaution when near Fernwood State Forest.
ODNR wildlife officers are working with local law enforcement to patrol the area, Bruce said.
Mountain lions are typically 4 to5 feet long weighing anywhere between 120 and150 pounds with brownish gray fur and long tails. Anyone seeing anything that resembles this animal is asked to call wildlife officials at (330) 644-2293.
Jamey Emmert, ODNR Division of Wildlife spokesperson, said mountain lion sightings are extremely uncommon in Ohio.
"We are really shocked by this. It doesn't happen frequently in Ohio," she said.
Mountain lions are more commonly found hundreds of miles to the west, she said.
Emmert said the wildlife officer was about 50 feet away from the mountain lion when he first saw it.
"They looked at each other for a couple of seconds and the mountain lion walked away," she said.
Emmert said the wildlife officer was very confident in what he saw.
The mountain lion didn't show any signs of aggression, she said.
"We don't want people to be fearful. We just want the public to be aware," she said.
Emmert said, in all likelihood, the mountain lion was probably being kept as a pet and escaped or was released. The Ohio Department of Agriculture keeps a registry of exotic pets under a new state law, but Emmert said there is a possibility the mountain lion may have come across the Ohio border from West Virginia or Pennsylvania.
She noted mountain lions kept as pets sometimes are declawed.
Emmert said anyone seeing large, uncommon paw tracks is asked to contact ODNR.
She added bobcats, which are more common in this part of Ohio, are much smaller than mountain lions.
(Law can be contacted at email@example.com.)