Charges Filed in Illegal Mountain Lion Case

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Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer Mark Fair recently filed charges against Marlin John Bressi III, 24, of Williamsburg Drive, Lower Paxton Township, for illegally possessing a western cougar. After immediately confiscating the animal, Fair filed the charges in District Justice Samuel J. Magaro's Office. If found guilty, Bressi faces a $300 fine.

At the time the animal was confiscated, the seven-month old female weighed 40 pounds, and had not been spayed or de-clawed. The animal currently is being housed at a properly-permitted facility, pending the outcome of the case.

According to purchase records obtained as part of the investigation, Bressi purchased the cougar on Nov. 1, from a facility in Virginia. However, Fair noted that Bressi failed to obtain the proper permit from the Game Commission and did not comply with secure caging requirements stipulated by the agency.

"While state law permits Pennsylvanians to possess certain exotic animals, the law also requires that such individuals adhere to specific permit and caging regulations established by the Game Commission in order to ensure public health and safety, as well as the animal's health and welfare," Fair said.

Pennsylvania's last known wild eastern mountain lion was killed in Berks County in 1874. And, except for Florida, the eastern mountain lion is believed to have been extirpated from the East Coast by 1900. But, over the years, mountain lion sightings have been reported throughout the state.

"The overwhelming majority of cases we investigate are proven to be mistaken identity based on examination of tracks, photos or other physical evidence," Ross said. "Some cases are inconclusive.

"And, while some believe mountain lions exist in the wilds of Pennsylvania, we have no conclusive evidence to support such views. However, if someone does encounter a mountain lion, the most logical explanation would be that the animal escaped from or was released by someone who either legally or illegally brought the animal into Pennsylvania."

To demonstrate his point, Ross noted that the agency has received reports of other exotic animals being found throughout Pennsylvania, such as the binturong recently found on a Beaver County family's porch. A native of Southeast Asia, a binturong is also known as a bearcat. The animal escaped from Michelle Wilfong, of New Sewickley, who recently pled guilty before District Justice Edward Howe in Freedom to two charges of illegal possession of wildlife. Beaver County WCO Travis Anderson filed the charges. Wilfong now faces a $200 fine.

In 2001, news reports detailed sightings of an African serval cat resembling a small cheetah, which had been illegally possessed and escaped from its Pittsburgh owner several times before being confiscated (Nov. 2001); and two wallabies that escaped from their owners in Ambler (Sept. 2001).

"There are hundreds of Pennsylvanians who legally possess exotic wildlife and follow all of the rules and regulations regarding public health and safety, as well as the health and welfare of the animal," Ross said. "However, there also are those who bring these types of animals into the state illegally and fail to follow the regulations. It is this group of individuals who cause us the greatest concern."

Ross encouraged Pennsylvanians to contact the Game Commission region office nearest them to report information about exotic wildlife that may be illegally possessed or improperly caged. All information will be kept strictly confidential.