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Mountain Lion sightings gaining credibility


September 08, 2011
Two weeks ago, Dawn Skorczewski, a writing professor at Brandeis University and part-time Waterford, Vt., resident, was biking along North Road in Lancaster beyond Weeks Memorial Hospital but before the Forbes Farm. She remembers the slow ascent of a hill and the immediate area being wooded-- just then, ahead of her in the road was something that startled and instantly scared her enough to think about turning back. It was, she said, something with "a cat head and big body". Then the animal turned, "looked hard" at her and "padded back" into the wood. All of this occurred within 10seconds.

Most locals would quickly jump to the conclusion that Skorczewski saw a mountain lion, or may have given it one of its other names -- cougar, puma, ghost cat or catamount. The large cat's name is as elusive and mysterious as the beast itself. Wildlife officials with professional precision call it an Eastern Cougar, a sub-species of the mountain lion. They are equally quick to confirm that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declared it extinct in March of this year. Reported sightings were often discounted as being some other kind of animal or a released pet that originated from the west, where the animal still exists. They need hard evidence and up until two months ago, they didn't have any.

Well, all that changed in June, when a 140 lb. male cougar was struck and killed in Connecticut. A necropsy report revealed the animal had been tagged in South Dakota and therefore traveled 1500 miles, a distance that astonishes wild life experts. Outdoor writer John Harrigan, who has been writing about cougar sightingsx for 40 years and believes they exist here, found some solace in the news. He was not alone; a query to local residents to share their sighting drew a large response.

Dana Nason, of Lunenburg, Vt., reported at on June 2 of this year, while on an ATV checking snowmobile trails, he saw a cougar crossing Mailett Road in Lunenburg. "This is the first I have ever seen in the wild," he said, "but there is no mistaking (it)." We have nothing in this area that is remotely similar to these big cats, he added.

Easton resident Beth Harwood, a trained forester, said "a large cat-like animal crossed in front of" her vehicle while driving near the junction of Route 112 from Route 116 in Benton. "The animal was long with an extraordinarily beautiful dark tan coat. It had a cat-like head, and most notably a long tail," she said, "I'd never seen anything like it."

It was near the power lines on Forest Lake Road in Whitefield, where Dalton resident Joel White saw a cougar. He was driving with three other people and crossed in front of him, he said, "I couldn't believe what I was seeing. That big cat-head turned and looked at us and then walked across the road." He continued. He covered the paw print in the mud with a bucket and called the local game warden, White says, as far as he knows, they never checked it out. Another, respondent from Marlow (down near Keene) had a similar experience, except she photographed the print. Linda McCracken tracks New Hampshire sightings and provided various other prints ranging from 5 to 6 inches wide.

Retired dairy farmer Don Fogg recalls being on his tractor on a field near the Connecticut River (near the Lancaster line) and seeing a cougar "lope across the field."

Sugar Hill resident Nick Timreck had a "face-to-face encounter with a very large cat" near his home on Pearl Lake Road in August, 2008. "We locked eyes for about two seconds," he said, and then it "retreated with impressive speed into the woods across the street."

Skorczewski, who saw the large cat-like creature in Lancaster, immediately scanned the internet for clues as to what she saw and she settled on a "panther" which is yet another regionalized name for the Eastern Mountain Lion. After being shown a photograph of the dead animal killed in Connecticut, she confirmed that was indeed what she saw.

Wild life officials across the region have backed off their adamant denials and have adopted more conciliatory response. State's Fish and Game's Patrick Tate said, "The lack of physical evidence of mountain lions in New Hampshire does not disprove their presence here," he said, "By the same token, the aberrant dispersal of a single mountain lion from the Dakotas to Connecticut does not prove that mountain lions reside here." But it may make it more plausible that one might be just passing by.

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