African Lion On The Prowl In West Virginia?

The king of the jungle just might be playing king of the mountain in a remote area of Greenbrier County.

While bow hunting last Wednesday on his 40-acre plot of land at Big Roaring Creek at the foot of Cold Knob, Jim Shortridge of Frankford says he watched a full-grown male African lion, complete with a four-foot-long tail, pace around his hunting shanty for about 40 minutes before running off into the woods.

Shortridge was at the homemade hunting shanty before daybreak, at about 5:30 a.m., and was in the process of transferring his gear to the building when he first heard the animal. His only weapon at the time was a bow that was still in his truck a few feet away.

“He started growling at me and I hollered and it sounded like he was running away,” Shortridge said. “So I put my lunch box down and went back to my truck and got my bow.”

“He started growling again,” Shortridge continued, “and when I went back in the building and sat down, I turned the light on him. He was about 10 to 15 yards away, and he kept walking back and forth and was huffing and puffing at me.”

Shortridge, 72, a lifelong hunter of bear, deer, turkey and other wildlife, estimated the animal weighed between 250 to 300 pounds. With only a small flashlight to shine on the animal, Shortridge said it was hard to determine whether it had a full mane. But he will never forget the sounds the big cat was making.

“He was doing medium growls, but they kept getting louder and louder,” Shortridge said. “I’m not afraid of anything, but I’m a lot more cautious now and I don’t get out of the truck until daylight, and now I take my rifle with me.”

Shortridge has hunted the area twice since then, but hasn’t seen the lion, or much of anything else around.

“I know he’s around because there aren’t any deer here anymore,” he said. “I called the Division of Natural Resources and they told me I was the second call they had received about the lion.”

DNR Conservation Officer Gabe Frangos said there had been no documented evidence of a lion’s presence in the area, but he had spoken to Shortridge about his unusual experience.

“If it’s a mountain lion, then it’s a protected species in this state,” Frangos said. “But if it’s an African lion or an exotic animal, then our department doesn’t have any jurisdiction.”

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On Tuesday, Shortridge escorted The Register-Herald, along with his daughter, Kathy Hunter, and officials from the Tiger Mountain Refuge in Rainelle to the area where he last saw the animal. Tiger Mountain Refuge is a nonprofit organization that locates and rescues exotic animals and provides them with safe, permanent homes.

Owner John Forga wants to capture the lion and take it to his wildlife sanctuary in Nicholas County, which is already home to more than 60 animals, including a grown tiger and “Alex,” a 600-pound African lion. Forga said the lion they are searching for was probably an abandoned pet.

“If it was a pet, then chances are the lion was declawed and defanged,” Forga said during the trip to Big Roaring Creek. “The chances of it surviving in the wild are slim to none, and it may be helpless.”

After turning off U.S. 219, Shortridge traveled about 13 miles deep into the woods before coming to his property. There, Shortridge and Forga looked for signs of the animal, but no tracks were found because of a deep layer of freshly fallen leaves. Forga then dumped about 20 pounds of raw chicken onto the ground and sprayed a bottle of cologne on surrounding trees.

“If the lion is here, it will need nutrients and the chicken will provide that, plus it will give an indication that someone wants to feed it, so it will come back,” Forga said. “The cologne is used as a curiosity scent to attract the lion. The lion hopefully will claw the trees that have been scented and give us an indication he’s here.

“The sound to listen for would be like a cow bawling. If the lion is here, it probably would not make it through the winter.”

Forga said if he finds evidence the lion is in the area, he will come back with a team and devote resources to capturing the cat and take it back to Nicholas County.

But others may be searching for the lion as well, some without the same altruistic motives as Forga. The Mountain Messenger newspaper first broke the story about the lion on Saturday, and since then, word has traveled fast throughout the county.

“It’s here, believe you me. I am a Christian man and I saw it,” Shortridge said. “Now there’s talk that a group of hunters may be trying to hunt the lion and kill it.”


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