Evansville Police Department Chief Mike Thompson suspects that a mountain lion is creeping around his town and stashing big game carcasses.
He hasn’t caught the big cat yet, but setting up a trail camera as part of the hunt gave him the opportunity to pull an epic prank.
Images captured by the trail camera and recently posted on the Evansville PD’s Facebook page show a variety of wild and domestic critters, plus a couple residents enjoying a wooded area near Veterans Bridge — but no mountain lion.
‘That Was The Funny Part’
Then there are the last three frames of the trail cam — showing a sinister-looking figure wearing what appears to be a ghastly mask. At least the viewer would hope that’s a mask and not his face.
Well, Wyomingites can relax, the Cowboy State isn’t being invaded by nightmarish humanoids. It’s a mask.
And the person wearing it is none other than Chief Thompson.
“That was the part of it being funny. We thought we could have some fun with it. The post was kind of a practical joke,” he told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday. “Last I looked, the post has reached about 36,000 people, so that’s pretty awesome.”
Thomson explained that the Evansville PD and Fire Department put on a haunted house and haunted corn maze during the Halloween season.
“We’re kind of known for scary things anyway. That was the mask I used in the haunted hay maze,” he said. “People have responded to the post mostly in a positive way. There have been a few negative comments, but most people appreciated it.”
Big Cat Quest
It all started when city maintenance crews started finding antelope and deer carcasses “in places where they shouldn’t have been” near the bridge, Thompson said.
While investigating the area, Thompson said he discovered more carcasses that had apparently been dragged into nearby thickets of trees.
They also found fresh mountain lion tracks and put two-and-two together: A mountain lion had been stashing its kills there.
It’s not unusual for wild critters to visit the area, Thompson said. Evansville sits in the northeast corner of the Casper metro area, with the Platte River to the north and Casper Mountain not far away.
A gaggle of wild turkeys is known to hang out near the bridge and other animals have been passing through.
“Heavy snow on the mountain this winter has been pushing more wildlife down here,” he said.
However, having a mountain lion stalking about was a bit too much.
“There was one set of tracks (from the mountain lion) that went under the bridge in to the riverside park area,” Thompson said.
Winter Of The Mountain Lions
After having the big game carcasses removed, Thompson set up his motion-activated trail camera near the bridge in hopes of catching some images of the big cat and confirming its presence. He left the camera up for about two and half weeks and got plenty of other wildlife activity, but not the Mountain lion.
So, he decided to take his prank shots and then take the camera down on Monday.
Evansville isn’t the only town to have mountain lions stalking it recently.
“Casper had a mountain lion a couple of weeks back,” Thompson said.
There have been reports of mountain lions in several Wyoming communities this year. Wildlife biologists suspect that a harsh winter has been driving prey animals such as deer toward settled areas, and the big cats have followed them.
Thompson said the Evansville mountain lion might have vacated the area, but he plans to keep checking for tracks and put the trail camera back up within few days, just to be sure.
“We have our city’s 100th anniversary celebration coming up on June 24, and we don’t need a mountain lion running around in the middle of that,” he said.
If the cat’s presence can be verified, Thompson said he’ll call the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
“They’re the specialists who know how to deal with that,” he said.
In most cases, game wardens shoot urban mountain lions with tranquilizer darts and transport them back out into the wild. That was recently done with a large male found in a backyard in Gillette.
Mark Heinz can be reached at Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com.