Mountain Lions Threaten New England Residents

For decades we’ve heard stories about man’s encroachment on nature, well in an ironic twist it appears nature has begun to encroach on man. It used to be when you thought of wild animals like mountain lions, wolves and coydogs, images of pristine wilderness deep in Alaska came to mind, not New England.

Reports of animals normally found deep in the wilderness are popping up in the suburbs around metropolitan areas like New York City, and the posh landscape of Greenwich, Connecticut.

A Mountain Lion, uncommon in Connecticut, was killed in Milford.

Dr. Andrew J. Smith is one of many wildlife specialists across the nation sounding the alarm, “I know how the state thinks and if it is proved these things are out there it will create all kinds of P.R. problems for them. Imagine what hikers will think if they find out mountain lions are roaming Harriman State Park? Business will collapse or people will start carrying guns. It would also create a mountain of paperwork.”

“The same thing happened back in the 60s when people started seeing bear. They denied it as long as they could until they started getting killed on the thruway down here. Summer camps panicked and went out of business. It created a general economic disaster for the industry for a while until they got used to the idea. Now they’re as common as raccoons around here. I talked to Maine game wardens and they said unofficially they accept their existence”

Agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have declared the eastern cougar extinct.

They also say there are no breeding populations in the eastern United States either, except for the endangered Florida panther. Despite this official statement, sightings have been popping up all over New England.

A mountain lion was struck by a car in Milford, Connecticut recently. The roaming wildcat had also been spotted in Greenwich as well. It was hit by a car on the Merritt Parkway near exit 55, according to the Hartford Courant.

Sigred Lacson, 40, of Newington was driving a 2006 Hyundai Tucson traveling north on Route 15 in the left lane when it hit the mountain lion, according to the state police report. Officials said they believe it’s the same mountain lion that had been spotted in Greenwich.

The New York state Department of Environmental Protection has repeatedly denied there being any mountain lions left in New York or Connecticut, claiming they are extinct. They did however confirm that the animal hit was a mountain lion.

The incident is still under investigation by DEP EnCon Police, one of the reasons for the test is to determine if the cat killed in the collision and the cat seen in Greenwich are one and the same. The animal would have had to travel about 50 miles to make it to Milford from Greenwich, but the DEP said that the animals are capable of traveling long distances.

Dr. Smith, “I am sure they will try to say – as they already are – they are just escaped exotic pets. How many of them can there be?!? There are scores of reports annually, as there have been hunters shooting them and pictures being taken. They can’t all be escaped pets! I want to know what its DNA shows, such as if it is a hybrid with South American or Florida panthers.”

Cougar hit by the car in Milford. Photo by the Conn State Police

According to Darren Marcy in a Rutland Herald article, “In another case of people being told they didn’t see what they thought they saw, several people in the town of Shirley, Mass., are being told they haven’t seen a mountain lion. This is despite the fact that several residents have seen what has been described as a mountain lion, including the town’s public works director and the police chief.”

“Such stories are relatively common in these parts. Someone says they’ve seen a mountain lion and then describe the animal they saw as, well, a mountain lion. But then a government agency steps in and tells everyone to relax, it was likely just a bobcat or another yellow Labrador retriever. – 7-feet long with a round face and pointed ears. A 7-foot-long bobcat! A round-faced, pointy-eared Labrador?”

The Fish and Wildlife Service had this to say in response to the multitudes of sightings,

“Although the eastern cougar has been on the endangered species list since 1973, its existence has long been questioned. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a formal review of the available information and, in a report issued today, concludes the eastern cougar is extinct and recommends the subspecies be removed from the endangered species list.”

“‘We recognize that many people have seen cougars in the wild within the historical range of the eastern cougar,” said the Service’s Northeast Region Chief of Endangered Species Martin Miller. “However, we believe those cougars are not the eastern cougar subspecies. We found no information to support the existence of the eastern cougar.'”

“Reports of cougars observed in the wild examined during the review process described cougars of other subspecies, often South American subspecies, that had been held in captivity and had escaped or been released to the wild, as well as wild cougars of the western United States subspecies that had migrated eastward to the Midwest.”

“During the review, the Service received 573 responses to a request for scientific information about the possible existence of the eastern cougar subspecies; conducted an extensive review of U.S. and Canadian scientific literature; and requested information from the 21 States within the historical range of the subspecies. No States expressed a belief in the existence of an eastern cougar population. According to Dr. Mark McCollough, the Service’s lead scientist for the eastern cougar, the subspecies of eastern cougar has likely been extinct since the 1930s.”

Russell W. Dickson, lives in upstate NY, and is a Freelance journalist. He has written for both print and online news/opinion pages.Russell holds a B.A. in English, minor Journalism from The University at Albany, Albany, NY. His writing experience spans more than a decade and his work has graced the pages of newspapers, magazines, online news orgs, and political websites in both the U.S. and abroad.