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· Master of Scaremonies
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This originally appeared last May, but I saw another report on yesterday's morning news about more recent sightings.

Cougar sightings in South Jersey called 'credible'

Courier-Post Staff

Residents expect to see deer on the edge of town, but recent sightings suggest something else might be lurking among the trees.

Reports of a cougar in the area prompted the state Department of Environmental Protection to send investigators on Wednesday, police said.

The state set up cameras that will take pictures if tripped, Detective Sgt. Joseph Giordano said. No traps have been planned yet.

Since May 11, nine people have said they've seen a large cat roaming in several areas of the township, including near a day-care center, a youth-sports complex, and the DuPont Repauno Plant. A police officer has been assigned to patrol the area on a bicycle.

Two police officers saw the cougar in broad daylight. One saw it chasing a herd of deer, Giordano said. "Every one of the witnesses have been credible. They have no reason to make it up," he said.

"We feel someone bought it and it got loose," Giordano added.

The cougar is consistently described by witnesses as being between 75 and 100 pounds, with a gray to brown hue depending on the lighting, low to the ground, with a big head, pointy ears, large paws and a tail longer than its body.

Homer Turner, a part-time employee of Repauno Products LLC, was one of the first to see the cougar from about 50 yards away while in his vehicle around May 11. He said it was about 6 feet long from its nose to tail.

"I saw this thing in the road and my eyes just froze on it. The first thing that caught me was the catlike features of its head . . . then the thick long tail," said Turner, a Rehoboth Beach, Del., resident. "This was not a wolf or a dog . . . the way it was running and how it was working its tail."

Logan resident Ed Gaventa, who has a farm near Greenwich, reported that he thought he saw a cougar on May 20 on the edge of a cornfield and woods from about 200 yards away.

Gaventa said he thought it was a deer at first, but realized quickly that it wasn't as he got a closer look.

"As I was watching it, I saw a really long tail. Then I saw it leap into the woods," Gaventa said.

State officials remain skeptical about the possibility of a cougar in the county.

"At this point, no one from (the state) has confirmed a sighting. Cougars haven't existed in New Jersey since the Colonial era," said Elaine Makatura, a spokeswoman for the state DEP. "At this time, we don't see it as a public safety issue."

Even so, the Repauno Pre-School Day Care Center, near the DuPont site, isn't taking any chances. Theresa Ruszkai, executive director of the center, has restricted its 96 children, ranging from 6 weeks to 5 years old, from playing outside. "We want documented proof that it doesn't exist or that they've captured it . . . It's such a fear and the parents are concerned," Ruszkai said.

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