Tim Chitwood

Where’s the beefy cat?

Agiant cat — there’s a horror-movie image for you: MegaPuss, ferocious feline from afar. Imagine the terrified movie extras fleeing that.

In this case MegaPuss was a cougar, and not entirely science-fiction.

Last week an e-mail prowled about Columbus with this premise: A 260-pound mountain lion got hit by a car at Fort Benning. Pictures of the cat came with this message:

“A landowner had seen this one a week before dragging off a 320-pound steer. . . . This one weighed 260 pounds, while most mature male mountain lions weigh 80 to 150 pounds.”

This cat tale raised questions like: A steer? That weighed 320 pounds? The cat had a cow? A week ago? And no one reported it?

This turned out to be bull. “That was a hoax,” said a soldier whose name was on the message.

The cougar’s getting hit by a car was a hopeful sign to folks who believe panthers still prowl the

Chattahoochee Valley. Cougar-car collisions never happen here, but they do happen where there’s a breeding population of cougars, like down south where a few Florida panthers still run wild, and in states out west, such as Arizona, which is where the e-mailed photos came from.

It turns out a mountain lion weighing more than 200 pounds was hit by a truck last year west of Flagstaff, and a state patrol officer was photographed with the carcass. Those e-mailed photos now roam as far as the cougar once ranged, all over North America.

Despite reported sightings, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources maintains no native population of cougars remains here.

“We stick to the position we always have, that we believe the native, wild population is gone, and has been for several years,” said biologist Jim Ozier, program manager of the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division’s nongame conservation section. “Of course it still exists in south Florida. That’s the only place anywhere in the nearby landscape, several hundred miles away.”

Witnesses here might spot a once-captive cat that has escaped or been released, he said. But where there’s a wild, breeding population, some turn up dead — just like that Arizona king cat, whose reign ultimately was axed by a Ford F-350.

“There are so many cars on the road, and so many roads, and so many people with guns — a lot of them wouldn’t shoot a panther they saw, or a cougar, but you know, a lot would,” Ozier said. “If it happens, we never hear about it, and I think if it were happening, we would hear about it.”

He’d like to see any evidence that cougars still are here, such as photos or videos. He can be reached at 478-994-1438 or jim.ozier@dnr.state.ga.us. Every image he’s seen so far has been a domestic cat.

Local witnesses insist they’ve seen big, long-tailed felines that weren’t just giant house cats, but still no sighting here has been confirmed. Yet.

If you see a cougar, try to get a clear photo and report it — especially if MegaPuss has a cow.