Are mountain lions back?|Richard_F||03/16/04 at 21:24:23|richard_F|xx|0||Are mountain lions back?


HILLSDALE-If you hear chirps, peeps, purrs, growls, moans, whistles or screams in your back yard, beware. It could be a mountain lion.
   Although the Department of Environmental Conservation says there's "no evidence that a viable population exists here in New York or the northeast," more and more sightings are being reported.
      Among those who claim to have seen the cats are three people in a business office at Catamount Ski Area, a Livingston snowmobiler, and motorists on Route 23 in Egremont, MA, and Route 22 outside Millerton.
      And Lance Dellavechia, who writes on outdoor sports for The Independent, describes a videotape made in Elizaville several years ago as "pretty convincing."
      "The distinctive thing is the long tail on a mountain lion," said Mr. Dellavechia. "Other than that an adult male bobcat looks the same." Bobcats are commonly found in the Berkshire-Taconic area.
      In the 7-minute videotape where the cat appears to be hunting muskrats, he said, "He pounces on one and the tail sticks straight out." An adult male can measure 7 feet from tip of nose to tip of tail and weigh as much as 130 pounds.
      Last July 4th, a Germantown resident who declined to be identified by name saw a mountain lion that had apparently been hit by a car on Route 9G just north of Germantown.
      "I wanted to spend more time with it but we were late for a wedding on Long Island," the man said, "and my wife told me to hurry up and get in the car. By the time we came back the next day it had been run over more."
      He estimated the cat's weight at 80 pounds. "It was all muscle, long and low with a boxy head," he said. "I thought it was a bobcat until I saw the tail."
      Gene Hannon, operations manager at Catamount, said he himself missed seeing the mountain lion at the ski area last spring because he'd gone out of the room temporarily. "It hasn't been that big on my list of things," he said. "But within the last month, all of a sudden, it's become a 'much ado about nothing.'" Catamount happens to be another name for the mountain lion. Others are panther, puma, and cougar.
      John Lutz of the Eastern Puma Research Network in Maysville, West Virginia, said he hadn't heard of sightings in the immediate area around Egremont or Hillsdale but he was aware of sightings near Newburgh and in the Catskills.
      "[Mountain lions] are very elusive and secretive," Mr. Lutz said. "They will stay in an area until they make several kills. Then the prey will leave the area, and they move on." An adult mountain lion kills only for food, he said, and would usually require one or two deer per week.
      Kill sites are usually in an area away from the anim al's den site because leftover flesh, which is usually covered over with brush and leaves until fully consumed, might alert predators such as bears, wolves and coyotes to the presence of kittens.
      If you should happen to encounter a mountain lion, says Mr. Lutz, keep in mind the word 'wildlife.'
      "If you do see one, don't run, and don't turn your back. Keep facing it, slowly back yourself away, and try to keep a tree between yourself and it. Never bend down or crouch down. The smaller you make yourself, the more the cat thinks you're small prey. Wave your hat. Scream. Yell."
      Fighting back is also recommended, using sticks, stones or fists, because the animals can be driven away by resistance. Only 18 human deaths by mountain lion attack have been documented in the past 500 years. In comparison, dogs kill 18 to 20 humans every year.
       Part of the hesitancy on the part of conservation officials in various states to recognize the existence of the cats in their territory, Mr. Lutz said, has to do with the Endangered Species Act.
      "They'd have to put in a recovery program and restrict access by citizens. They would have to make an area for the cougar to live on."
      In actuality, he said, mountain lions "have been living in North America for hundreds of years without man's intervention" and could probably continue to do so. In the wild, they have been known to live up to 12 years; in captivity, up to 20.
      Mike Fraser, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, said the department would not hesitate to acknowledge their presence, provided there was strong scientific documentation. "From a fish and wildlife standpoint," he said, "the return of a nativ e species, an event as remarkable as that would supersede any complications that the department would have to adjust to."
      Mountain lions were common in the northeast until at least 1900. A small population still exists in Florida, and they have never died out west of the Mississippi.
      Mr. Lutz's organization is particularly interested in tracks and droppings because they are definitive documentation of the cats' presence. Sightings can be reported to him via email to or by phone to his hotline, (304) 749-7778. His database has recorded more than 5,800 sightings in the eastern United States and Canada since he started his research in 1965. Most sightings, he said, are without physical documentation.
      Documented sightings are of greater interest. "If you see a cat and you've got a camera, try and get a picture," he said. "If you find tracks, lay a pen next to it and take a picture."
      Tracks with toenails should be ignored, because they were undoubtedly made by a large dog. The cats don't leave toenail tracks. The cats' tracks are also more oval than dog tracks, he said, and wider left-to-right than dog tracks, which are more elongated from top to bottom.
      Repeated sightings usually mean a female is trying to establish territory, according to Mr. Lutz. One such territory would measure between 50 and 100 square miles and would be marked by scent. The cats are said to have a "well defined social system based on mutual avoidance."
      Even if the cats have taken up residence in the area, spotting one will not be easy. "They will wait under a big bush, and unless you walk on their tail you won't know they're there," said Mr. Lutz. "And I've followed tracks to right back where they started."
&n bsp;     They're also capable of a quick getaway. A mountain lion can sprint 35 miles per hour, jump 15 feet high and 40 feet wide, climb trees, and swim rivers.