Reports of elusive dark cat near Forestville, but images unclear

If there really is a black cougar prowling Don Callen's woodlands near Forestville, it's a bona fide feline phenomenon.

Such a creature may exist, experts say, but there has never been a documented sighting of a black cougar, also known as a mountain lion or puma.

And the furry shape in the two photographs captured 50 feet from Callen's stationary digital camera might just be a black house cat, as common as a crow.

Two experts who've seen Callen's photos flatly declared the images are inconclusive.

Callen, a Santa Rosa custom home builder and remodeler, admitted that he's skeptical, too.

"It's like getting a picture of Bigfoot," he said.

But Callen insists, based on reconnoitering the scene on his 52-acre property, that the cat would have come up to his midthigh. "He's definitely a big cat," Callen said.

"It's definitely enticing," said Jack Dumbacher, a curator at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, who viewed the photos Friday.

But he and Rob Dicely, who runs an exotic cat preserve in Occidental, said the image is too blurred and the lighting too low to make a species-positive identification.

"It could be (a black cougar)," said Dicely, whose 19-cat collection, called Leopards, Etc., includes a mountain lion named Shoshone. "That's about as far as you can take it."

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