The Stowaway
Presented By
Bonnie M. Wells

Unwanted Stowaway

VIENNA {West Virginia} -

Crew members of a towboat pushing 15 barges down the Ohio River had a surprise guest Monday. {March 1, 2010}

C.R. Neale, pilot with Neale Marine Transportation, said a barge stopped near its facility north of Vienna after discovering a bobcat had decided to stow away on the tow.

Neale said its office received a call Monday afternoon from the Vernon C. Smith, owned by Ingram Barge Co. of Nashville, Tenn., about the unusual guest.

"They said a bobcat was found when crew members were making their routine check of the barges in tow as they passed Marietta," he said Tuesday. "Our office placed a call to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, who dispatched a biologist to our facility to capture the bobcat."

Neale said one of its boats took the biologist over to the Vernon C. Smith's tow, and captured the stowaway without incident.

Neale said the crew members said the bobcat appeared to be domesticated and it came within five to six feet from them. "The bobcat apparently hid out on the tow for some distance, as the boat had not stopped except for lockages since picking up an empty barge in Hancock County," he said. "I haven't seen anything like this before."

Neale said it caused quite a stir.

"Everybody was trying to get pictures of it," he said. "It was a unique event for a barge."

Jeff McCrady, a wildlife biologist with the DNR, said it was the first time he had been called to get an animal off a barge.

"That was my first call for an animal on a barge and the first for a bobcat," he said. "I remember a deer once in a similar situation."

McCrady said the bobcat entered a pet carrier on its own.

"Since then I talked with the DNR in Ohio and they got a call about a bobcat at the Willow Island Locks and Dam and someone up there noted it seemed like it had been domesticated or was used to human contact. It didn't act like a wild animal."

McCrady said the Ohio DNR picked up the bobcat early Tuesday and transported it to The Wilds, a 10,000-acre facility in Cumberland, Ohio.

"Nobody on the barge was able to capture it," he said. "It seemed to have stowed away.''

McCrady said it was the best thing for the cat.

"It was seen by a deckhand," he said. "I expected it to be wild and I would not be able to get close to it. I feared it would jump into the river and swim away."

Bobcats are not an uncommon sight in the area, McCrady said.

"They are fairly common," he said. "They are secretive and nocturnal but there are a number of them around here. People are seeing them and trappers are finding them."

McCrady said West Virginia has a bobcat season.

"You have to check it and it seems the numbers are increasing," he said.

Neale said he was told about a bobcat spotted at Willow Island, but they do not know where the bobcat got on the barge.

"In my lifetime that had never happened on one of our barges," he said. "I heard about something like that on the Mississippi last year. There were problems many years ago, but nothing in recent years. There has been nothing locally that I know of."

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