Lion Eyes

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

That phrase needs to be reworked just a bit when one considers the image captured by the Matt and Dawne Olson family of rural Vermillion last month. It has been the talk of the town this past week.

A camera specially designed to operate outdoors and collect photos of wildlife captured this image of a mountain lion on the Dawne and Matt Olson property north of Vermillion. This big cat was roaming on a trail along the Vermillion River at 8:04 p.m. Jan. 16 when the camera snapped this photo. (Courtesy of Matt Olson)

For Christmas, the Olsons presented their son, Cody, with a digital "game" camera. It's designed to be hidden outdoors and can be programmed to take photos at a certain rate over time.

The Olsons mounted the camera in a tree on their acreage near the Vermillion River, about eight miles north of Vermillion, and simply let it snap away as Cody, a student at South Dakota State University, returned to Brookings after his holiday break ended.

When he returned home last Friday for the long President's Day weekend, Cody retrieved the digital card from the camera, and began reviewing them on his computer.

"We set it (the camera) up during the first part of January, right after Christmas," Matt said, "and we hadn't checked it since then. He took the card out of the camera and put it in his laptop, and he began scrolling through all of the photos."

The camera snapped several images that weren't all that surprising. The Olsons presented the gift to Cody because they thought it would be neat to collect photos of deer, raccoons, coyotes and other wildlife that live in the countryside in Clay County.

"There was about 180 pictures on there of deer and raccoon and coyotes, and he got about halfway through, and there was a picture of a mountain lion," Matt said. "He was pretty surprised.

"And my wife was obviously very surprised," Matt said. "She jogs a lot down in that area, and she made the comment, especially when the corn was tall, that she was always kind of nervous … pretty soon, you know, you think stuff could come out of a field and start chasing you, and she was talking about mountain lions. At the time, I didn't doubt that they may be around, but I don't think they'd be out stalking somebody. But she's nervous about it now."

The Olsons have a second game camera set up about a mile from Cody's camera. "We haven't gotten anything on that," Matt said.

It's impossible to tell just from the photo if the mountain lion is male or female. "I don't know if it was just passing through the area, or what," he said.

For several years now, outdoorsmen in the Vermillion area have reported seeing what they believe may be mountain lions, or have spotted tracks that could belong to the big cats, but they've never been able to confirm those suspicions.

"We hunt down in that area a lot, and a couple, three years ago, my dad, Erlan, saw something out in a field. It was a long ways away, and it was out near a tree line, and it jumped back into the trees," Matt said. "It looked like it had a big tail, and he instantly thought it could have been a mountain lion. But when you simply catch a glimpse of something like that, you just don't know for sure."

Cody's camera has put those doubts to rest. It has confirmed that, on occasion, the fauna of Clay County may, on occasion, include a mountain lion.

"I've heard rumors that they are around, and I've never doubted it," Matt said. "But, it's kind of interesting to get one on a camera. If he had been walking the other way, it wouldn't have been nearly as good. You maybe even would have questioned what it was.

"It was kind of neat that he was walking toward the camera and we got a good shot of him," he said.

The camera also has the capability of shooting video. "It takes more battery to shoot video, of course, but there a lot of different ways you can set it up. It takes a picture every 30 seconds, I think, and we were able to get one good shot of him.

"Some of the deer that walk by – you just get a little bit of them … maybe just their hind end as they're walking away, so this photo (of the mountain lion) was about as good a shot as you can get."

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