The video shot in Jack Foerschler's barn shows his flock of sheep lying quietly in the dark. It's a windy night, and dust that flies in front of the lens looks like snow, and the wind sounds like thunder in the night-vision camera's microphone.
The flock seems peaceful, until the animals are suddenly startled. A nanosecond later, a blur leaps into the screen and tackles one of the sheep. The ewe is able to escape momentarily, jumping up from the creature's clutches, running to the viewer's left. But the invader is faster. It bounds to its feet and extends a claw toward its fleeing prey.
The viewer can see its massive claws, slender muscular body and distinctively long tail.
The culprit that killed four ewes, a ram and seven lambs on Foerschler's southeast Carson ranch last month has been revealed, for everyone to see.
It's a hungry mountain lion.
"I've never had a mountain lion kill sheep," Foerschler said this week, relieved that his suspicion that someone had shot his animals was wrong. "I've lost one to a coyote, lots to dogs, but never to a lion or a bullet. I can say now, never a bullet."
The ordeal began April 4, when Foerschler went outside to tend to his flock.
Deep in the pasture, he found a dead ewe with a small neck wound.
A week later, another ewe with a neck wound was found dead along the fence that runs next to the Carson River.
A week later, a ram carcass was found dead along the same fence line. This time, Foerschler noticed drag marks, so he dissected the ram's injury and found what looked like small-caliber bullet wounds.
He called the police. He knew the damage animal predators could do to their prey. These wounds looked like nothing he'd seen before. Officers seemingly agreed.
Foerschler installed cameras.
When a third ewe was found dead, its body left hanging from the fence, Foerschler looked at his video.
It was then that the mystery was solved.
Foerschler called the Federal Department of Agriculture and a trapper from Animal Damage Control came and followed drag marks to a spot outside of Foerschler's fence near the river. A trapper set up a snare, and within days the lion was captured. Foerschler checked his video again to see if he could determine just what was happening to his flock.
This time, Foerschler set cameras up outside the pens to view his flock. A swath of light lit the spaces between them. Before long, he saw a mountain lion enter the frame. From a dead stop, it leaped effortlessly over the six-foot fence. A moment later it leaped back with a lamb in its mouth, before sauntering out of the frame.
As sad as the images are that he's caught, Foerschler said, it's a lot easier to accept than the alternative.
"I'm very happy its over and done. I'm happier it wasn't some nut and only a lion," he said.
Kevin Lansford, predator biologist and staff specialist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife, said there are an estimated 2,500 mountain lions statewide. Solitary creatures, the females weigh between 85 and 100 pounds. Males weigh between 130 to 170 pounds. From nose to tip of tail they can be anywhere from six to seven feet long, said Lansford.
And their behavior when going after prey mimics no other animal.
"Their power and prowess and their ability to stalk and hunt large animals is amazing," he said.
Unlike dogs or coyotes, lions will kill their prey, then carry the carcass off to feed in a place where they feel secure.
It's not uncommon for someone to confuse a lion kill with a gunshot wound, Lansford said.
"I've seen a lot of things mistaken for a lot of things. I've seen some pretty clean kills by lions that are a pretty straightforward puncture wound with blood," he said.
The lion trapped near Foerschler's farm was a male and weighed about 130 pounds. Because the Nevada Department of Wildlife does not allow for the relocation of mountain lions, the animal was killed.
"If that lion has already keyed in on livestock, there's not really any place to take it where it won't be a disruption," Lansford said. "If he's a stock killer, there's really no place in Nevada where you can take him where he's not gong to be adjacent to stock. You just can't take somebody's problem and make it somebody else's."
Contact reporter F.T. Norton at email@example.com or 881-1213.