A Mountain Lion

It was interesting to learn this week that the mountain lion killed in Connecticut last month was not a domesticated escapee, but a true wildcat. It had not been de-clawed or neutered, the usual practice among those who keep big cats as pets. The 140-pound male had also had a run-in with a porcupine, since it still carried some quills embedded in its skin.
The biggest surprise came from the DNA tests, which showed this animal had originated in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The DNA samples also matched samples taken from scat found in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It may have been the same animal spotted last year in Michigan.

So where does this leave us in the debate over whether or not there is a native population of mountain lions in New England?

Just last spring the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service declared them extinct here. But they were talking about the eastern panther, or catamount, a closely-related species – possibly a subspecies – of the western mountain lion. This one in Connecticut was an outsider.

Wildlife “officials” have consistently dismissed the notion that there could still be mountain lions roaming the woods of New England. Whenever a sighting is reported, they put it down as a case of mistaken identity. When they’re confronted with evidence such as scat or tracks, then they say it must be an escapee.

On the other hand, wildlife biologists, researchers generally connected with colleges or universities, are much more inclined to accept the possibility of a small native population living in the more remote areas. They point out there plenty of remote areas with abundant food, and so there would be no reason for them to come in contact with humans.

This most recent case is a good example. The immediate reaction of officials was that it had to be an escapee. They clearly could not deny the carcass in front of them was a mountain lion. Then, when the later examination revealed that it was indeed a wild cat, the commissioner of the Connecticut Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection declared it an “anomaly,” and that there was no proof that there were others in the region.

I suppose it could be argued either way, but what puzzles me most is why “officials” – not just in Connecticut but all over New England – are so adamant in their position that there is no population of mountain lions in New England. It could well be that the native catamount is gone, but given the number of sightings all over New England, it now seems more likely that we may have a new population of western mountain lions.