It's nice to see the animals coming back. The moose, wolves, turkeys, bobcats, black bears and most recently, the mountain lion, are all increasing their numbers in New Hampshire.
Fish and Game worker spies mountain lion
Physical evidence remains elusive
By KAREN LANGLEY
September 19, 2009 - 12:00 am
There's been another mountain lion sighting in New Hampshire. And this time, it was a Fish and Game employee who spotted the big, tawny cat.
Further inspection found no physical evidence that the state has its first confirmed cougar in 140 years, but officials are taking the report seriously.
The sighting occurred late Wednesday in Barnstead, as the staff member for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department was following up on a citizen's reported sighting, said Mark Ellingwood, a wildlife biologist with the department. The staff member was walking on a trail and spotted the mountain lion about 30 yards away. It was in sight for about 10 seconds.
"The animal slipped away, and that was the end of the encounter," Ellingwood said.
The sighting appears credible, he said. But like the 100 or so mountain lion reports each year, this one failed to yield any tracks, hair or scat that would convince scientists a mountain lion had definitely passed that way.
If the Barnstead cat was indeed a mountain lion, it's likely a captive animal someone brought into the state and then released, Ellingwood said.
The last known mountain lion in New Hampshire was killed in 1868 in Lee, said Eric Orff, who recently retired after 30 years as the furbearer biologist at Fish and Game. The cats were not common in northern New England even in colonial times, and scientists believe they were wiped out from the area in the 19th century, Orff said.
"They are a mysterious animal," he said. "Even when they occur, they're never so abundant that you see them regularly."
Mountain lions live in established populations in the western third of the United States. The easternmost established ranges are in the Dakotas, except for populations in southern Florida, according to The Cougar Network. The nonprofit research organization reports four confirmed sightings of mountain lions in the northeastern United States since 1990: one in northern Massachusetts, two in Maine and one in New York.
Still, Fish and Game receives regular reports of mountain lions, an animal Ellingwood said is hard to misidentify at close quarters. Orff said he frequently spoke with people who claimed seeing one.
"They would describe a mountain lion to the T over the phone," he said. "But we would go and look for evidence - tracks, places they defecated, hair - and over the 30 years I observed and two years since, there has been no physical documentation that mountain lions occur."
When physical evidence was offered, it usually belonged to a bobcat or a coyote, Ellingwood said.
A grown mountain lion weighs more than 100 pounds, as big as a German shepherd, and has a long, ropelike tail and tawny hair, he said.
"They're unmistakable," said Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, a writer who studied mountain lions in Colorado in preparation for her book The Tribe of Tiger: Cats and Their Culture. "There isn't anything else that looks like a mountain lion."
Thomas said she spotted a mountain lion in 1992 in the field of her Peterborough home and that her son saw one in recent weeks. A friend saw one lying dead by the road, she said, but the carcass was gone by the time he returned.
"Fish and Game is very reluctant to acknowledge they're here and have been for years," she said. "You don't need to be a scientist to know it's a mountain lion."