INMAN, S.C. —
A South Carolina woman who set up her phone camera at sunset over the weekend captured more than she expected.
"I was just trying to get the sunset on video, actually," Brianna Oliver said of the images she took from a field off Asheville Highway in Inman.
When Oliver went over the time-lapsed video she took on Saturday, she discovered an animal running across the screen.
"I saw what was there, and I was like, 'What is that?' I asked my boyfriend," Oliver said.
"I’m pretty sure that’s bigger than a cat," she told him.
Oliver posted video and pictures to a neighborhood Facebook page, and the comments confirmed what she suspected: that it was a cougar or mountain lion.
"I think it’s a mountain lion, personally," she said. "It’s not the first one I’ve seen out there, but people don’t believe you because they say it’s not native here."
We showed the video to Greg Yarrow, a wildlife biologist and professor of wildlife ecology at Clemson University.
He said his first reaction was that it might be an animal that escaped Hollywild, the wild animal preserve on Hampton Road in nearby Wellford.
"These occasional sightings are usually either misidentified, or they’re animals that may have escaped or sometimes people will get kittens and raise them as pets," Yarrow said.
WYFF News 4 contacted Hollywild, and officials said all their animals were present and accounted for.
Still, Yarrow said wildlife experts are in agreement that the Eastern cougar, or mountain lion, is not found breeding or free-roaming in this area.
"Certainly, it’s interesting in terms of being able to see that (animal) roaming across the field there, but that’s pretty much where were are right now," Yarrow said. "There’s really not been any documented — at least in South Carolina — cases of cougars free-roaming."
He said the closest breeding populations of cougars are in South Florida, in the Everglades, and in the Big Cypress Swamp area.
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Another interesting element to the video comes about 15 minutes or so, in real-time, after the animal runs through the area. Another animal that looks like a deer is seen to the far left, running around off-screen.
Yarrow said that although wild cats can travel a long range, the possibility that this could be one that is migrating through the area is pretty rare.
As for Oliver, she said she's just glad she wasn't out there when the cat was there. She also said she's getting support from her neighbors about the post.
"It’s just crazy how many reactions it got and how many people believe, like I do, that they’re around," she said.
Jay Butfiloski, with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, said this after looking at the video:
"There is nothing in this video that would make me think this was a big cat. There is no substantial tail, and the body appears smaller. A mountain lion should have a thick long, and black-tipped tail," he said.
Yarrow said several years ago there was a report of a cougar on Clemson’s campus.
He said one of the schools naturalists was actually able to catch up to it and discovered it was an exotic breed of dog that looked very similar to that type of body of a cougar.
"Yeah, that was almost convincing," Yarrow said. "You look at the photographs and you just can't tell."