It's a jungle out there.
A trail camera mounted on a wooden fence post in north-central Nebraska captured a rare image of a mountain lion in hot pursuit of a white-tailed deer.
Valentine businessman Kirk Sharp's digital photograph shows a whitetail darting into a thick stand of ponderosa pine trees on a canyon ridge line. The predator mountain lion is steps behind its prey.
"I don't how long the lion stalked the deer and I don't know where the chase began or where it ended, but it went by my camera," Sharp said Tuesday. "They were moving fast."
The episode occurred at 11 p.m. Monday. Sharp discovered the image when he checked the camera the next morning.
Sam Wilson, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's mountain lion authority, said that it was the first photo he has seen of a cougar chase in Nebraska.
"It's an awesome picture," said Wilson, who is meeting this week with other western states wildlife biologists in Gering, Neb.
Sharp said he has 16 trail cameras posted around his ranch a half-mile north of Rocky Ford on the Niobrara River. The cameras are automatically triggered by motion sensors. Hunters use them to spot wildlife, determine game trails and select sites to hunt.
The camera that captured the chase is mounted about 3 feet off of the ground and faces north across a ridge of native grass. The trees mark the edge of the canyon rim.
"Where that lion was headed is virtually straight down," Sharp said. "Canyons here are 300 to 400 feet deep and drop off abruptly."
Sharp said he never had seen a cougar in the 16 years he has owned the property. One of his first trail cameras snapped a photo of a mountain lion on the ranch in 2004. About 12 years ago, his son watched one sit on its haunches and stare at turkey decoys before ambling away.
Wilson said that the Niobrara valley around Valentine is the state's second-largest block of prime mountain lion habitat. The Pine Ridge in northwest Nebraska is No. 1. The Wildcat Hills near Scottsbluff ranks third.
"We've had confirmed sightings of roaming males in the Niobrara valley for years," Wilson said.
There have been 49 confirmed sightings of mountain lions outside the Pine Ridge since 1991, according to Game and Parks records.
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