MANDAN, N.D. (AP) -- Authorities believe a mountain lion is responsible for the killing of sheep at a U.S. Department of Agriculture research center south of Mandan, but they have been unable to turn up any sign of a cougar.

The killings began about two weeks ago and at least eight sheep are dead, said Phil Mastrangelo, director of USDA's Wildlife Services division in North Dakota.

The sheep are part of a flock kept in an enclosure for research on using the animals to combat the weed leafy spurge. Mastrangelo said officials have ruled out coyotes as the predator because the sheep were taken down by the back of the neck, which is consistent with how mountain lions attack their prey.

The center is about four miles southwest of Mandan, along the Heart River. The area is range land where it is difficult to pick up any tracks.

Authorities continue to monitor the area. North Dakota Game and Fish Wildlife Chief Randy Kreil said his department has placed four trail cameras but no mountain lion has been photographed. Mastrangelo said two Wildlife Services field staff camped out for two nights in the area, equipped with night vision equipment and dogs, but came up empty.

Traps also have been deployed to no avail, and aerial surveys have turned up no sightings.

"Whether the animal moved on its own or because of the increased activity, we don't know," Mastrangelo said.


Information from: Bismarck Tribune,

Copyright 2010 The AP.

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