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Monday, June 13, 2011

Connecticut Mountain Lion in the news; killed by car

I have so much to blog about but decided to tackle this post first...

Reuters photo of road killed mt. lion
(Taken from Yahoo! site)
On June 11, 2011 a mountain lion was hit and killed by an SUV in Connecticut. Here is a link to the Yahoo article since they allow comments. As I write this post, the article is only a day old and has over 1200 comments.  A common theme among the posters is that the state's Department of Environmental Protection in CT and the state agencies all throughout the East has been denying, covering up and otherwise lying to the public concerning the existence of mountain lions in the Eastern United States. Scores of people are providing their own sightings as proof that these cats exist. However, I am interpreting the evidence in a completely different light. Let me explain:

Earlier in the month, several people reported seeing a mountain lion in a town about 45 miles from where this cat was killed. Then a resident snapped a blurry photo and the DEP investigated by measuring the tree in the photo and even used a pet dog to re-stage the scene (the dog was led to the same location as the animal photographed and since the dog is of a known size, they could determine the size of the creature in the photo). Based on that investigation, the DEP determined the critter in the photo WAS a mountain lion. Tracks were found and casts were made. The eyewitness testimony was backed up by compelling physical evidence that anyone could examine.

About one week and 45 miles later, a mountain lion is hit by a vehicle and killed. Some are claiming that these instances are proof that the state wildlife agency has been lying to the public for years. However, I am interpreting these stories differently. They show that when the DEP is presented with proof of the existence of mountain lions, they admit it and present it to the public. Secondly, they show that when these animals truly DO occur in an area, providing concrete proof of their existence is easier than some would want us to believe.  The odds are good that the cat that was killed is somehow related to the mountain lion that was photographed (either the exact same individual or they share a common origin). It is less likely that they are completely unrelated and happened to both have surfaced at the same time. And it is even more unlikely that mountain lions have been wandering in Connecticut (or any other state) for decades (the length of time sightings have been reported) and only now are being photographed and hit by cars.

Measuring mountain lion stride
(Great Falls, Montana 2/11)
In summary, everywhere mountain lions exist, they are documented through physical evidence. They are struck by vehicles, they are photographed by camera traps, etc etc. But most importantly, they leave tracks behind. Certainly, snow provides the easiest medium for finding tracks, but even in places with little snow (like Connecticut) or no snow like Florida, mountain lions and other terrestrial critters still leave tracks in dirt, sand and mud. I will not be surprised if no new photos emerge of the living mountain lion in Greenwich. I will not be surprised when the state DEP announces that the mountain lion killed shows signs of a captive life (for example, other mountain lions killed in the east over the past few decades have been neutered, declawed, show wear marks to their paws that are consistent with captive pacing rather than free-roaming travel, and of course, South American or Western DNA). And unfortunately, I will not be surprised when some take this opportunity to bash the professional wildlife community simply because they do not tell them what they want to hear.

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