When first public reports surfaced of a large cat, possibly a cougar or lynx, prowling the Big Island’s Coffee Belt region about a month ago, Hōlualoa resident Drew Camacho , was skeptical.
Camacho is the director of the Bridge House sober living center in Hōlualoa. The facility is spread across a vast fertile landscape filled with gardens. Part of the residents’ chores include picking lychees and tending to the land. Camacho thought residents were using fear of big cats to avoid going out to work.
But Camacho is a believer now, after seeing the latest video of the reported animal that was captured over the weekend by security cameras at the Manago Hotel and released Monday by Honolulu TV news KH0N2.
“I think it’s real,” Camacho said Tuesday, fearing the animal could have been so close.
Big cats are not only rare in Hawai’i, but illegal. State law prohibits feral cats like lynxes, jaguars, bobcats, leopards, and hybrids, not all of which are native to the islands.
If there’s such a big cat, it must have been smuggled to the island. A person found guilty of transporting, possessing or possessing an illegal animal could be fined up to $200,000, pay all costs of capturing the animal, and be imprisoned for up to three years. , according to the Hawaii Plant Industry Division.
The first sightings were “right in our backyard,” Camacho said. Sightings now have the big stray cat about 17 miles south of Captain Cook, where the historic Manago Hotel resides.
Dark, grainy footage captured Sunday night at the hotel shows what appears to be a large cat-like animal casually walking down the sidewalk of a dark street. The video is shot from inside the hotel lobby and the moving figure is seen through the window.
It’s hard to know exactly what it is, but it’s definitely something.
A hotel employee, who wished to remain anonymous, told Big Island Now on Tuesday that two guests from California saw the animal around 7:45 p.m. that evening as they entered the hotel. They were sure it was a mountain lion, the employee said.
“She saw him pass,” said the employee, who worked in the kitchen. “She loves, panicked. She wanted to jump in the truck.
Another employee working at the hotel’s front desk spoke further to the Californian couple, who said they’ve seen lots of mountain lions before. Shortly after, they checked the hotel security camera. That’s when they spotted it, albeit grainy, but there. He appeared to turn off the freeway and head for the nearby baseball diamonds.
“Unfortunately, it’s not the clearest of pictures, but it doesn’t look like a little cat,” the employee said, adding that she was afraid to walk home that evening. “I believe them. They were adamant about it.
The first sighting was on August 15, when a Hōlualoa resident took photos of what appears to be something the size of a large dog on his property on the rural slopes of Hualālai above Kailua- Kona.
The resident, who requested anonymity, told the TV station he fired a gun to scare it and the animal jumped six feet in the air and about 30 feet down. outside.
The sighting led Department of Lands and Natural Resources staff to place bait and cameras in an attempt to capture evidence of a big cat. But the effort ended unsuccessfully.
The state land agency turned the investigation over to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, which has jurisdiction to investigate exotic animal sightings. Emails to the Department of Agriculture requesting updates on the investigation were not returned on Tuesday, but on Tuesday the DLNR said the Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) had reviewed reports from a big cat, but without clear photographs or video. was impossible to make decisions.
Staff on those cameras only saw pigs and small cats in their footage, a DLNR spokesman said.
“Reported sightings from across the island of Hawaii are unlikely due to the distances and terrain that even a large animal would have to traverse,” he added.
A few blocks from the Manago Hotel on Tuesday, Daniel Alber, manager of Blackrock Pizza, said he was aware of the reports but was not too alarmed by the prospect of the big cat wandering around in his work area. His staff didn’t seem to be either.
The animal would probably stay in more rural areas than the busiest city, but he had no problem believing that such an exotic animal could find its way to the island in the middle of the Pacific.
“Everything else was imported here, right? ” he said.
In 2003, state wildlife officials investigated the possibility that the mutilation of a young deer in Maui’s backcountry was the work of a large cat that had been on the loose for at least six months. Investigators never found evidence, but in 2017 then-Maui Mayor Alana Arakawa told a person who thought he saw a large cat-like creature in a resort area that the legendary “Maui Cat” was the island version. of the Big Foot.
Back on the Big Island, a few yards off the Māmalahoa Highway from Blackrock Pizza, Kona Potato Chips employee Brianne Omori said the latest images of the animal were the talk of the store when it opened Tuesday morning. It also made national news.
Have you seen him? Was it real? what was that? All the employees questioned each other.
The consensus among them, Omori said, was that the image was too grainy and obscure to be considered concrete evidence. It was also his opinion. It could be a dog, she thought. In the end, seeing is believing.
“I don’t believe anything fuzzy,” she said. “If the quality was a bit better, then probably. But I do not know.
People who have information about the animal’s whereabouts can report it to the HDOA at 808-643-PEST.