Sightings have become rather common although nobody can prove their sightings. The DEP keeps reports 'secret'. I was just at the town hall in Cornwall,Ct. and even the staff in there have seen them. Un-reliable?
The Northwest Corner has its ghosts.
They take the shape of half-rotten tree stumps, watchful and unmoving. A fluttering leaf becomes a nose turning to sniff the wind. Tiny birds outline beasts that charge through berry bushes, only to be swallowed up by the shadowy ripple of a stream crossing.
I saw one not long ago in the stillness of dusk in Salisbury, a honey-brown feline poised just inside a tree line at 80 yards. On its haunches, it had the look of a small deer, perhaps one of the three I had seen earlier advancing on a curl of mist. It held me in its gaze as intently as a house cat watches a bird feeder from the other side of a windowpane.
I had seen what state biologists say I couldn't have, a mountain lion, known to Native Americans as the "ghost of the forest." At one time arguably the most fearsome and reclusive of native predators, it may just be finding its way back 118 years after its official departure.
I had to be sure of the tail, I thought then , knowing that my story would be challenged and discounted like hundreds of others each year as a case of mistaken identity. I might as well claim I'd seen Sasquatch here in a state that so vehemently denies the existence of even transient wild lions, but also one that lies in the path of the animals' inevitable eastward expansion.
Wiped out by deforestation and bounty hunters paid to keep them from killing livestock throughout New England, the last Eastern mountain lion with a confirmed sighting-a 160-pounder-in the state was in a remote area of Mount Riga in Salisbury in 1887. In 1800, Torrington town fathers offered a 50-cent bounty for every wild cat's head. The price rose to $1 in 1802 and to $2 in 1806 for the big cats called panthers, or "painters," and still there were plenty around to keep hunters in business.
Eventually, the pay increased to $20 in some towns and brought the last of them down. Breeding populations were pushed north into Canada and south to Florida. No lions by any name-cougar, puma, catamount or panther-have been born in the wild or officially set paw in the state since then.
Most of the reported sightings in recent years have been attributed to a healthy population of bobcats. Jay Kaplan, director of the Roaring Brook Nature Center in Canton, has made note of many such reports. A few are coyotes, he says. One lionlike animal reported to Kaplan as a sighting worth training his telescope on turned out to be a large domesticated tiger cat. A few, maybe 10 percent, are left unexplained and feed our obsession with this growing mystery.
The spike in the bobcat population is an accepted phenomenon; it's one of several predatory species that have made their way back into the state. When Connecticut was stripped of trees in the 19th century to accommodate farmland, it lost the population of white-tailed deer the big cats depended on for food and the small game that provide bobcats and fishers with much of their sustenance. Now the forests and the white-tailed deer are back, and so are the bobcats and fishers. Can the lions be far behind-or are they already here?
As I made my sighting, I ruled out the signature "bobbed" tail of the much smaller and speckled cat, and recalled an encounter one morning last May. I was turkey hunting, sprawled out on one side of a leaf pile, when a bobcat nearly walked over me, its attention focused on the large male turkey we had both spotted.
The 25-pound cat was closer than the length of the shotgun barrel when it saw me and froze. I stared straight into its icy black and green eyes. It was a look I still feel in the pit of my stomach each time I hear unexplained screeches in the night that are like a cross between a child's terrified wail and the shrill pet-shop sound of a tropical canary.
This time, the big cat was a different breed, and it had the advantage of watching my advance. It lingered for a few seconds before pressing its body hard against the ground and slithering away, its long tail curling behind. It left no mark of where it had been, no telltale print, no backward glance or eyewitness but me.
I wasn't far from the location of the 1887 sighting, and the road called Wildcat Hollow that borders the farm where I used to live. The valley is in the shadow of the Taconic Mountains, which rise up along Connecticut's boundary with New York. It was along the Appalachian Trail, which follows these same peaks, where I first heard stories about a big cat in the summer of 2002.
I was one of several ridge runners paid by The Appalachian Mountain Club to live in the woods and assist hikers. Stories made their way up and down the trail of a big cat seen taking down a deer and crossing the trail. Matt McNair was the last ridge runner to leave in late August. A lanky native of Arkansas who didn't miss showers, television or beer as much as most college students who'd latched onto the romantic notion of becoming mountain men, Matt kept the demons of isolation and mosquitoes at bay. I was unsure of the hikers' stories, some of which I got second- and third-hand, but I believed Matt when he described a big cat he had seen perched on a rock overlooking the trail.
A week later, a utility-company worker came by our farm. He checked the meter on the barn, then headed up the road toward the main house, past fields that sweep down into hollows on either side. I saw his brake lights go on. He returned, and asked if a light brown calf had gotten loose. We raised beef cattle, I told him, "and they're black."
Stories were all over town that summer two years ago. Diane Ryder might have seen the same cat cross Route 41 just behind a deer. Bonnie Whalen saw one cross her lawn in the Lime Rock section, and Pamela Feathers said she saw one through her binoculars in East Canaan.
And the sightings haven't subsided with time. Bill Alexson, a former hunter from Torrington who knows his way around the woods, was driving along Route 4 on the night of Sept. 27, 2004 when he slowed to watch a man pull a large cat by its tail out of the roadway as a local constable looked on. His companion, Susan Byrnes of Burlington, tells the same story. The resident state trooper's office in Burlington claimed the event never happened, later produced a photograph of a small bobcat to explain it.
State Department of Environmental Protection wildlife biologist Paul Rego says the roadkill Alexson and Byrnes saw was a deer. He is sure, after following up on hundreds of sightings by well-intentioned and reasonable people for 15 years, that the state has no resident big cats. It's human nature to conjure images and to become sure of what began as vague, he explains patiently.
There is general agreement that lions are making their way east, fed by a healthy population of white-tailed deer. Isolated wanderers aside, the front line of their approach is still thought to be somewhere in the Midwest, where hikers and joggers are regularly on the alert. Dozens of attacks, some lethal, have been documented in states in the Midwest and Far West, mostly in Colorado, California and Montana. In the Sierra Nevada, the lions return in the 1980s brought bighorn sheep to the brink of extinction.
A wild mountain lion was found dead along train tracks near the Kansas-Oklahoma state line in June 2004, the first in a century. Its transmitter collar had been tracked more than 667 miles. Confirmed sightings have also been documented in Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska. Closer to home, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service attributed a scat (feces) find to a cougar 10 years ago in northern Vermont. Evidence in Delaware and Pennsylvania has confirmed the cats' existence, but not their origins.
Reliable sightings have been confirmed by state biologists in New York's Adirondack region. Scat collected near the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts in 1997 was attributed to a lion, though a skull and foreleg bone found more recently have yet to wind their way to an official desk. Isolated confirmations in the region have been attributed to released pets. (Although they are illegal to own, lions can be bought with the click of a mouse over the Internet.)
Here, though, Rego continues to insist that without a carcass, photograph or scat, no report has been verified. Kaplan, who has followed up on his own list of "reliable" sightings, agrees. Although it's clear that the lions are pushing east, their presence will become evident as soon as a breeding population finally makes its home here, he says.
Kaplan attributes public fascination to what he calls "charismatic mega fauna." In today's society, big cats are seen as sexy, handsome and cuddly. No longer the fearsome predator that was at odds with farmers who saw them as a threat to livestock and livelihood, they have a right to return to the forests they were first to inhabit, some argue.
"If I asked for $10 to help save the spade- foot toad, also an endangered species, I wouldn't get the same response as I would asking for money to save mountain lions," Kaplan says.
Public obsession is evidenced by several Web sites and bulletin boards where sightings are noted. The Eastern Puma Research Network, a group of amateurs and scientists, collects evidence to support its claim that the population exists throughout New England.
When and if the story changes in Connecticut, safety issues would have to be addressed and a federal recovery plan would have to be implemented at federal and state expense, in accordance with federal guidelines. Private and public lands would have to be set aside as protection zones for lions to roam, thrive and reproduce. It would be a tough task to gain support for this in a state that this year is considering a proposal to hike taxes to save more land from urban sprawl.
Even Rego acknowledges that the lions will come, but that it could take a decade or two. Eastern Puma Research Network member Bill Betty of Rhode Island is sure it will happen sooner. "A lot of naysayers are going to be eating crow," he says.
The natural world has a way of correcting itself, of finding balance. As many towns grapple with the problems raised by an overpopulation of deer, something is already happening in the Northwest Corner to bring it into check. Hunters are seeing and harvesting fewer of them, as many as 10 to 20 percent fewer last fall in some towns, including Salisbury.
There are plenty of possible explanations. The deer may have adapted to more nocturnal feeding patterns, perhaps pushed into open areas by sparse nut crops. Cold and snow have returned to New England winters, thinning out the herd. But some say that they are being stalked by a mountain lion or two-or by ghosts with long tails.
CREDITS:Excerpts:Connecticut Magazine 2006
Even large animals can be found at the edges of metropolitan areas. Early in 2004, a mountain lion attacked a woman riding a bicycle in the Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in the foothills above populous Orange County, and the same animal may have killed a man who was found dead nearby.
According to the Los Angeles Times, if the man's death is confirmed as caused by the mountain lion, it would be the first death by a mountain lion in Orange County.
The Times added, however, that "mountain lions are no strangers in Orange County's canyons and wilderness parks.
Indeed, in 1994, mountain lions killed two women in state parks near San Diego and Sacramento.
Deer may be attracting the cats, suggests Paul Beier, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
An article in a Montana newspaper, also citing Paul Beier's research, reported that mountain lion encounters are increasing around the country. The article noted that according to "conventional wisdom," the encounters occur because more people are moving into the lions' habitat. But, the author says, the reverse is also true. Lions "are spending more time in what has long been considered human habitat, our cities and towns and subdivisions.
Even in the East, mountain lions may be returning. Bill McKibben reported in 1995 that the Eastern Puma Research Network had been told of 1,800 puma (a mountain lion) sightings during the previous 10 years. The National Wildlife Federation reports a resurgence of cougars (another type of mountain lion) in California, where they are endangering bighorn sheep in the Sierra Nevadas.
I was out near the blue trail in Burlington, Ct. about 4 hours ago (near the cemetary on Route 69) trying out my new GPS for geocaching. Anyway I was changing the batteries in my walkman when I heard a rather loud crash about 50 yards ahead of me and it got louder for about 30 seconds. Then a mountain lion crashed through the tree line and chased down a squirrel. It froze when it saw me and stared at me for mayber 2 minutes. It then just bolted back into the woods.
It was abou 5 1/2 feet long and looked to be at least 200 pounds.
It had a red ring or stain around it's front left ankle area and looked to only have one ear uness the other was was down like an angry cat's would be. It also had a long tail that had the same stain as the paw area.
I have hiked this area since I was a kid and I have seen coyote, deer, fox, and even a black bear but I had never seena anything like this at all. I was mildly freaked so I called the cops and was told "there's no lions in Connecticut". i also calle dthe DEP but they seemed incredulous as well. I know there are visible prints out there still since there's a good 8 inches of snow pack.
Should I keep calling the DEP? Seems like this is a potential hazard to hikers no?
Bears are nothing here anymore but 5 years ago a sighting was big news. If I was familar with the Northern states in NEw England having Mountain Lions I would chlk it up to a migration similar to the black bears but, to my rather general knowledge, there are no mountain lions in New England. Any thought?
CREDITS:Excerpts:Jay RedSoxJay (email omitted)