Discovering that the small dead mammal buried in Walt Musser’s backyard was a skunk and not a tasty meal, some large, unknown animal left the uncovered skunk ... and very curious paw prints.

Discovering that the small dead mammal buried in Walt Musser’s backyard was a skunk and not a tasty meal, some large, unknown animal left the uncovered skunk ... and very curious paw prints.

The prints, approximately 5 inches by 5 inches, are heavily imprinted in Musser’s yard.

“The first thing I thought when I saw the prints was I really don’t want whatever this is to be around here,” said Musser.

A few days prior, Musser had disposed of a dead skunk by burying it in the far corner of his property.

“I was wondering if anything might have tampered with the grave, so I went to take a look,” said Musser.

He discovered the skunk had been unearthed.

“The skunk was still in the bottom of the grave, but there were big claw marks around the hole,” he said.

“It was buried about a foot in the ground, and had only been there three or four days when something dug it up. I think it realized what was in the hole and didn’t want it. The skunk was left laying at the bottom of the hole,” Musser explained.

Musser’s Pine?Oak Drive property abuts Oakwood Cemetery. The paw prints entered Musser’s yard from the direction of the cemetery and later indicated the animal exited the yard back toward the cemetery.

“I?looked at the distance between strides, and it was up to four feet in places,” he said.
Musser owns Victorian Manor in Geneseo, and, on?Saturday morning, Geneseo mayor Linda Van Der Leest was at the restaurant eating breakfast.

“I?was joking with her and said, ‘What do you have out in the cemetery in the way of big animals? Because you need to find a really big chain for it,’” said Musser.

Though Musser’s property is outside city limits, Van Der Leest said she was interested in seeing the prints.

“The depth of the prints says it has to be a heavy animal,” said Van Der Leest. “I laid my hand down and the paw was as big as from the joint of my thumb up. Anything with that big of a paw print is concerning.”

After seeing the prints, she walked the cemetery’s fence line to see if any tuffs of fur had been caught on the fence, but found nothing.

Musser and Van Der Leest decided to consult Geneseo Republic outdoor columnist Dan Dauw regarding the mysterious prints.

Initially, Dauw said he thought the large prints could be from a large cat — such as a mountain lion or cougar.

“Looking very closely, the one thing that I questioned about the paw print was the back and largest part of the paw. It was slightly more pointed and not indented,” said Dauw.

Further research led Dauw to believe the prints might be that of a gray wolf.

Both large cats and wolves can have territory ranges of up to 100 square miles.

He sent photos and information about the prints to Illinois Department of Natural?Resources Conservation Officer Jamie Posasteri for analysis.

She sent the information to the state’s furbearer biologist in Springfield who identified the paw prints as that of a large dog.

“He noted the pointed toe pads and triangular leading front on the heel pad — which corresponds with a canine,” she said.

“Most of the time we’ve lived in Geneseo, we’ve had Golden?Retrievers in the 80- to 95-pound range. Their prints are only half that size. It’s an eye opener to say the least,” said Musser. “It’s bigger than any dog I’ve seen.”

Sightings of mountain lions and cougars have been reported in Henry County in the past.

Regardless of what animal visited Musser’s backyard, Van Der Leest said the best option is for area residents to “be aware of their surroundings and mindful of the environment.”

“We don’t want to raise panic. We just want people to be aware,” she said. “It could be an animal was passing through the area and is miles away by now.”

In regards to possible big cats in the area, Dauw said, “In my humble opinion, mountain lions are just as afraid of humans as we are of them. They also can have a range of 175 miles and weigh up to 200 pounds. There are always sightings of what people ‘think’ or ‘want’ to see, so discretion is best.”

If a suspicious animal or prints are spotted, Van Der Leest encouraged residents to contact the Geneseo Police Department.

Posasteri said unusual wildlife sightings also should be reported to the Illinois
Department of Natural Resources at

“Everything they see in a text message or e-mail is not always from Illinois,” she said.
“We have had numerous reports of e-mails going around with photographs of mountain lions from local trail cameras. However, most of those e-mails were discredited and the photographs were from a game farm out west,”?Posasteri explained.