When reports of lion sightings near downtown Milwaukee were made last July, Kurt Zuelsdorf was near the area.
The Horicon native who now lives in Florida was visiting a friend at the time. An urban wildlife tracker, Kurt was invited to take part in tracking the animal.
“It was my goal to get some live, clear footage of the cat in an attempt to keep it from being killed,” said Kurt.
By tuning in to the Ani-mal Planet channel, viewers can watch as Kurt and two others track the reported lion. Urban Predator: Lion On The Loose will air at 8 p.m. CST on Friday, May 27.
The 1982 graduate of Horicon High School spends hours mapping and planning a course when his skills as an urban wildlife tracker are called upon.
“I use Google Earth when I’m on track to see the variations in terrain,” said Kurt. “I use a fitness app to keep a log of where I’ve been and what was discovered. I also use a compass and always have lots of water.”
Tracking has been a part of Kurt’s life since he was a boy, learning from his father, Rollie, and brothers while growing up traipsing around Horicon Marsh.
“We [Kurt and his brothers] had to learn the difference between a skunk and a rabbit, between a duck and a goose,” said Kurt.
He added that with his involvement with helping to track the reported lion that is the subject of the television episode, it was valuable to him that he became educated in the differences between dogs, coyote, wolves…and now lion. “As your skills grow, the more comfortable you become in the great outdoors,” pointed out Kurt. While Kurt learned tracking through family, he believes people can be provided the opportunity to learn tracking through basic biology classes, Boy or Girl Scout classes and hunter education courses.
Kurt has never been out of the United States to track. “I do a lot of urban coyote tracking here in Florida, but also have fun tracking manatee, deer, feral hogs, bear, and more,” said Kurt. Although he has fun tracking with his brother, Kurt mostly tracks on his own. Sharing the tracking duties while tracking the reported lion for the television episode was a thrill for Kurt. Rory Young is a professional guide from Africa.
Dennis Vinohradsky, a local tracker, completed the trio. “Spending time and comparing notes about the dissimilarities of our American wildlife with a professional guide from Africa was awesome,” said the Horicon native. “But when we started tracking is when we got a chance to really get to know each other. Rory Young is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.” A tracker of predators, Kurt spends a lot of time studying, tracking and finding patterns of urban wildlife. Viewers of the program will see Kurt, Rory and Dennis in action as they follow the clues left behind by the reported lion. Kurt not only tracks wildlife, he educates people as to ‘what’ is living in their neighborhoods and ‘why’ the animal is there.
Kurt said humans have the ability to co-exist with wildlife if they know how their actions and lifestyles attract or discourage the wildlife. “Co-existing with ‘big cats’ in Wisconsin is a relatively new concept,” he explained. “Over the next 15 years, the numbers will grow due to the abundant whitetail deer population, which is the number one food source for lions.” Take away the food sourse.
Take away the threat. But it’s not that easy in the Dairy State. “That’s the foundation of what I advise, but in Wisconsin this will be impossible because of deer and livestock,” said Kurt. He urges people to report any sightings of urban predators. Kurt urges people to not walk with small children or pets at either dusk or dawn, but especially when it’s dark.
How can people help to keep urban predators from their neighborhoods? “Stop feeding dogs, cats and other pets outside and especially near your house,” said Kurt. He said big cats do serve a purpose and we’re fortunate to have them. “Big cats provide a strong and healthy ecosystem by removing the weak, wounded or sickened wildlife,” said Kurt. “We can get along [with the big cats].” Kurt usually finds out about a critter or subject through word of mouth, the news or social networking.
He begins tracking and scouting the animal and gives advice through the same chain regarding how to adjust daily behaviors so the subject won’t be a problem. But he does so only after he is satisfied with his scouting and tracking of the habits and patterns of the subject. Kurt has lived in Florida since 1988, moving to the warmer climate after college. Kurt grew up as a guide at Horicon Marsh Boat Tours, the business Rollie began in 1963.
He moved to Florida to pursue a career in fitness. Joining Kurt in the move to Florida was Carol Salzman of Portage. The two married in 1990. They have two daughters who attend the University of South Florida, Andrazia Joy and Alyssa Joy. “But my passion for the outdoors and being a guide never ceased,” said Kurt. Taking part in Urban Predator: Lion On The Loose was very interesting to Kurt, who had taken some basic production courses since moving to Florida. “I never realized what goes into professional production,” said Kurt. “Wow. This crew moved with such efficiency and in a friendly manner.”