The guys in the service department of Larry's Chevrolet in Randallstown scoffed yesterday at the report of a mountain lion roaming around the overgrown brush behind their building. But they figured they would check it out for themselves -- just in case.
Rudy Schmidt, a service adviser at the Liberty Road car dealership, planned to lead the second cougar expedition of the day during his lunch hour.
"We're going to go back there and see what we find," he announced. "We're going to see if we can find Big Foot, too. He might be back there with the mountain lion."
Bruce Peach, an auto mechanic, participated in an earlier cougar hunt and spotted nothing more exotic than a stray cat.
"I don't think he's back there," said Mr. Peach, who wasn't worried about coming face to face with a mountain lion. "I figured he would be afraid of me and run away."
A steady stream of curiosity seekers made their way to the 3700 block of Burmont Avenue yesterday to look for the mountain lion, which three members of the Livesay family claim they have seen in the field across from their home.
Minnie Livesay, 78, said she has seen the cougar twice since Oct. 7 prowling around her property.
The first time, she was washing dishes about 9:30 a.m. when she saw a deer out the window. She walked outside to get a closer look when a large animal suddenly sprang from the brush at the edge of her yard.
"He just jumped out of the weeds," Mrs. Livesay said. "It had short hair, and it was a big, old, long thing. It had a real long tail. I've never seen nothing that looked like that before. You can't compare it to a dog."
She called the Maryland State Police, but the troopers could barely suppress their laughter as they took their report. Baltimore County's Animal Control Bureau did set up a trap last week to capture whatever she had seen.
The authorities began taking her more seriously after she, her daughter and son-in-law all saw the cougar at different times on Oct. 15 and 16. On Tuesday, Baltimore County police sent a XTC helicopter up to scan the area, and officials from the state Department of Natural Resources' Forest, Park and Wildlife Service came out to investigate.
Wildlife investigators combed the area yesterday and set up a second trap.
Ashley Straw, a regional wildlife biologist, said he is taking the sightings seriously, though his investigators have found no tracks, droppings, dead animals or other physical evidence that would confirm the cougar's existence.
If the mountain lion does exist, it probably belongs to someone in the area who was holding it captive illegally, Mr. Straw said.
Either the cougar escaped or was set free after the owner got tired of taking care of it.
Wildlife experts said cougars haven't roamed wild in Maryland for almost 200 years.
But John Lutz, an amateur cougar buff who runs a Baltimore-based organization called the Eastern Puma Research Network, said there have been 11 sightings of mountain lions in Maryland this year and scores more in Pennsylvania and Virginia.
The cats have been seen in both the Liberty and Prettyboy watersheds over the last few years, Mr. Lutz said. He does not believe that the Randallstown cougar was ever a captive.
This isn't an escape," he insisted. "This isn't a pet. These are resident cats that like to roam."
A wild mountain lion weighs between 90 and 160 pounds, depending on its sex, and ranges over a 15- to 35-square-mile territory for food, Mr. Straw said.
They prey on deer, rabbits, groundhogs, raccoons and other small animals.
Solitary and secretive by nature, mountain lions avoid any contact with humans in the wild. But a captive cougar might not have an aversion to people, making it far more dangerous.
"It will feel more comfortable attacking a human if it feels threatened," Mr. Straw said.
He urged people to stay away from Burmont Avenue instead of trying to find the mountain lion themselves.
"Our problem is the curiosity seekers," he said. "What do you do when you find a large predator? It's not Walt Disney's lonesome cougar. It's not the kind of thing people should go and look for."