KEARNEY, Neb. — Golfers at the Country Club Golf Course near the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus may have come closer to an encounter rarer than a hole in one Saturday morning when a mountain lion was reportedly spotted near the green.
Kearney Police Officer Jeffery Dowling and his son, Tyler Dowling, were nearly finished with their round of golf when they spotted a mountain lion by a lake on the 16th hole. The cat then walked 50 yards, jumped into a maintenance brush pile and jumped down to the other side of the pile, Jeffery said.
“At first, I was just kind of shocked and really didn’t believe what I was seeing,” Jeffery said.
The mountain lion was about 100 yards away, Jeffery said, and he and his son were able to get a better look at it through their laser range finder, which is normally used to measure the distance on golf shots.
They didn’t see the cat again, Jeffery said.
Jeffery called authorities, and Tyler, who works at the golf course, contacted his boss, Kearney Country Club General Manager Adam Brandow. Brandow said he immediately began driving around the golf course warning golfers.
UNK Communications also warned students and staff to take caution, according to an alert from UNK that went out to students and staff.
Kearney police and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission personnel weren’t able to find the mountain lion, according to a police report and to Sam Wilson, of the Game and Parks Department. To confirm a sighting, Wilson said, there needs to be physical evidence that the animal was present. Evidence includes scat, tracks and hair.
Mountain lion sightings are rare in the Kearney area, Wilson said. However, this is not the first time a mountain lion has been spotted near a school in Kearney. Police reported a mountain lion sighting near Horizon Middle School in 2015, and police shot a mountain lion in a residential area in southwest Kearney in May 2011.
Wilson said there isn’t a reproducing mountain lion population in the Kearney area. However, he said, “it could happen because these animals can wander great distances.”
The nearest reproducing mountain lion populations are in the Wild Cat Hills near Scottsbluff, the Pine Ridge near Chadron and the Niobrara River Valley, Wilson said. Young mountain lions also have left the Black Hills, he said, and have been found throughout the Midwest because they can travel for many hundreds of miles.
If a mountain lion is sighted, Wilson said, people should back away, get inside a car or structure, and call Game and Parks.